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 Sunday, 29 November 2015
Perfect Storm: Lynne Arriale’s "Convergence" (Motema, 2011) PDF Print
Written by Andrea Canter, Contributing Editor   
Saturday, 05 February 2011


“The melody is what creates a particular energy and feeling in the listener and it sets the tone…  I take an idea, develop it, turn it inside out and come back to it at the end.  That resonates with people.  Ultimately people remember melodies, not harmonic progressions.” –Lynne Arriale 

I have seen Lynne Arriale perform live a few times,  own every recording she has released and have reviewed several. But even I was not prepared for the explosive power atop the anticipated beauty of Convergence, perhaps the most aptly titled recording of her career. 

Arriale is somewhat of an enigma among post bop jazz pianists – highly praised in critics’ circles, a stunning composer and prolific recording artist, in high demand among European audiences, yet somewhat below the American jazz populist radar. Perhaps she’s alluded the limelight in part because she has followed her muse without compromise, from the release of her first recording in 1994, The Eyes Have It, which introduced a trio (with Jay Anderson and Steve Davis) that would be her musical focal point for over a decade. Few jazz artists have so steadfastly held onto to the trio concept for so long, and so well. But change is inevitable. “It seemed like time for a change,” said Lynne. “Music is music, whatever the configuration is.” Always devoting some time to education, Lynne relocated to assume a faculty position at the University of North Florida. And she looked for a new direction for her music, finding inspiration writing for a new ensemble featuring a horn--specifically the trumpet of Randy Brecker. Armed with Brecker, veteran bassist George Mraz and drummer Anthony Pinciotti, she returned to the recording studio, releasing Nuance (her fourth on the Motema label) to wide acclaim in 2009. “I think, in general, that the music has opened up,” she said in an interview. “I think it has become more free…” 

Lynne Arriale Quartet
Nuance, as fits the title, did not leave trademark Arriale devotion to melody and accessibility behind, yet the arrangements were often far more assertive, the shadings bolder, the improvisations crossing into more distant territories than the more “nuanced” explorations of the Lynne Arriale Trio. Thus Convergence is, in one sense, a continuation of that freer trajectory, a set combining Arriale originals and reimagined covers, a set that again brings a horn (this time Bill McHenry’s tenor sax) into the mix, yet another expansive emotional palette. It’s a “convergence” of the lyrical simplicity and elegant harmonies of the trio years and the harder-hitting assertions of her recent quartet journeys.  

On the other hand, even Nuance did not prepare me for the raw energy and robust explorations of this new Team Arriale, with Pinciotti and bassist Omer Avital her co-conspirators, with and without McHenry, who appears on 5 of the 11 tracks. Without a single “jazz cover,” Convergence brings together six wide-ranging originals from Arriale and five rock/pop tunes from Sting to Blondie, from The Stones and The Beatles to Nine-Inch Nails. Lynne has ventured into pop territory before, specifically Sting and Lennon and McCartney. But that repertoire served as an accent, not a centerpiece. Here Arriale proves there is no exception—all music is fair game, and any music can be elevated by Arriale’s powers to arrange and rearrange and reconsider the message, the story. And her own originals, as has been true all along, draw upon wide sources of inspiration, from bebop to folk melody to world rhythms, to tell Lynne’s own story. As such, this is Lynne Arriale’s “harmonic convergence,” a point of alignment of past, present and (likely) future music vision.  

Something about the first melodic run of Arriale’s opening “Elements” reminds me of an old Cole Porterish standard. Yet with a crackling greeting from Pinciotti, there is a more spare feel, a dark bebop tension that readily signals Lynne is taking a new direction in her compositions as she tears through the keyboard, egged on by bass and percussion. We aren’t even in quartet mode yet but we are on a new trajectory that, while indeed melodic, gives more emphasis to rhythmic fantasies. Pinciotti’s late burst further reinforces the rhythmic excitement. The drummer gives a quick introduction to the following original “Here and Now,” followed by Avital and our first meeting with Bill McHenry’s singing tenor sax.  All contribute busy lines but they complement rather than compete. Arriale breaks loose over frenetic energy provided by bass and drums, her lines elegantly insistent, angular yet majestic, welcoming McHenry back to the fray before tossing off the last bars to Avital.   

Lynne Arriale
Lynn returns to familiar Beatles territory as well as her trademark melodicism on the classic “Here Comes the Sun,” with significant contribution from Avital’s resonant basslines. It’s a confident arrangement that suggests the jazz ballad treatment (and Avital’s sure-fingered solo) was always  the Fab Four’s intent. It’s almost reverant. Staying in the realm of pop inspiration, Sting’s “Sister Moon” essentially begins as a piano/bass ballad with background wash from Pinciotti. The trio’s melodic, bluesy treatment creates moments of prayer. Turning on a dime, the ensemble tackles Blondies’ “Call Me, “ starting with Avital’s sassy basslines and a unison sax and piano to sound the basic melody line. It’s snaky, snarly, and tart, McHenry’s dark side riding above Arriale’s perfectly placed chords, Avital’s low-down and gritty basslines, and Pinciotti’s jagged percussive accents. Throughout Lynn’s solo and McHenry’s follow-up, hesitations in the rhythm add intrigue, and Avital’s closing solo leaves a lingering mystery. 

Lynne’s “Dance of the Rain” melds haunting Middle Eastern harmonies and dark flamenco. Avital gives the oud a Spanish tinge over brackish piano, conjuring a foggy moor or abandoned marketplace. As Arriale moves the piano forward, dancers swirl and pause and swirl again, Avital (again) having the final word. An underlying folkloric breeze carries McHenry’s high–end tenor song, “For Peace,” with Avital’s bass a lone dancer. The piano sways and the tenor sax sings, with equal parts regret and hope. 

Pinciotti’s spooky chimes and dings and Avital’s ghostly bass solo bring the Stone’s anthemic “Paint It Black” out of the 60s. The interplay of crystalline piano against this brooding backdrop makes this trio arrangement spectacularly intriguing. Avital is simply disarming in his phrasing and glissindi. From the book of Nine-Inch Nails, “Something I Can Never Have” is a magnetic quartet collaboration, initially (and lastly) a noodling, hollow-toned chant that grows in range and intensity, Pinciotti at his most stimulating. 

Indeed, Arriale’s title track is a “Convergence” of all of the above influences--straight bop energy, rhythmic adventure,  majestic harmonies,  folkloric suggestions. A joyful McHenry sets up Lynne’s most freewheeling improvisation, propelled by double-time basslines and splash-and-slash percussion. Pinciotti’s solo explosion mines every point of attack, a preview of the full quartet’s final honking swell.

  It’s the “The Simple Things,” however, that have been the bedrock of Lynne Arriale’s songbook, and her closing tune brings together a singularly beautiful melody, elegant harmonies, touches of blues and Celtic roots, and the core of ensemble empathy. It’s a delicate hymn, a stunning resolution of a 50-minute perfect storm. 

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