ALBUM SPOTLIGHT : *** 1/2, JACKY TERRASSON, "Reach", Blue Note

Given the lineup of talented jazz pianists that has been emerging during the last few years, it would be easy for Jacky Terrasson to blend into the crowd. But "Reach," his second album as a leader, confirms what has been obvious about the Paris-raised pianist from the beginning--that he is determined to follow his own highly individualistic, even eccentric, artistic path.

Terrasson's playing is a reminder that the piano has always been the most enigmatic of jazz voices, an instrument that is simultaneously melodic, harmonic and percussive, a mini-orchestra in itself. He attempts to explore those resources with probing interpretations of a program of standards and originals--sometimes rich and rhapsodic, sometimes sparse and percussive, occasionally childlike in their effort to approach the instrument from a new point of view. And, best of all, he rarely falls into the too-seductive pianists' trap of churning out endless choruses of right-hand bebop melodies accompanied by left-hand chording.

The spontaneous quality of the music is enhanced by the open, airy environment of engineer Marc Levinson's Cello equipment, which employs a two-microphone, live-recording technique. Terrasson, drummer Leon Parker and bassist Ugonna Okegwo played in the same room, with no partitions or glass windows separating them, no headphones or monitors and no overdubs. The result is a collection of performances whose sound and dynamics are determined by the musicians rather than the producers and technicians.

Terrasson's quest for aural variety is aided enormously by the unusual work of Parker, who sees a drum set as an array of individual sound and timbre producing instruments rather than an assemblage of devices to create audio torture. It's fascinating, in fact, to listen to this album solely in the context of Parker's carefully conceived minimalist style--to hear the number of places in which he lays out completely or simply adds a perfectly placed snare accent or a shimmer of cymbals.

The album was recorded at the close of a six-month tour, and the music reflects the intuitive interaction of players who can anticipate one another's every move.

Listen, for example, to the bouncy, up-tempo version of the soupy ballad "(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons"; the melodically lean but harmonically provocative reading of "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" that is framed between the surging rhythms of the title track; or the offbeat tempo shifts in "Just One of Those Things," in which Terrasson uses a long, continuous right-hand trill to build to a furious, fast-paced climax.

Good, ear-catching stuff, all of it, enhanced by having been recorded in a method that strives to deliver the music from the performer to the listener with the least possible amount of artificial intrusion. Old-fashioned? Except for the digital technology, yes, wonderfully so. And a method so perfectly suited for the candid nature of jazz that one can only hope it will be used more frequently in the future.

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