by Nick Bewsey
The Age We Live In
It’s not quite a British invasion, but the dynamic young pianist, John Escreet, is stirring things up on the jazz scene. Transplanted to New York from Doncaster, England where he was born in 1984, Escreet graduated from the Masters program at the Manhattan School of Music in 2008 where he studied under pianists Jason Moran and Kenny Barron, the former an acclaimed modernist while the latter is renowned as an elder jazz statesman best known for his role in Stan Getz’s last band. His teachers have had an affecting influence on Escreet’s music, and his compositions frequently reflect moments that suggest Moran’s expansion of the vocabulary of jazz as well as Barron’s pronounced lyricism. A promise of things to come, his anticipated debut, Conse- quences, (2008) was thematically abstract and its lengthy tunes flared on the whims of its improvisers, while last year’s excellent Don’t Fight The Inevitable was progressively accessible with tracks that had greater emotional depth, still rooted in the avant-garde yet cleverly embossed with contemporary sensibilities.
Escreet’s confident third (and best) release, The Age We Live In, firmly plants itself at the intersection where improvised jazz, taut electro-rhythms and shades of hip-hop collide to make a compelling musical statement. In a rush of adrenaline, the recording jumpstarts with an intro of strummed piano wires and a flurry of drumbeats. With boosted bass, the album takes off with a jolt. Alternating between piano and Fender Rhodes, Escreet’s playing is breathtaking for its speed (“The Domino Effect”) as much as his eloquence. His music recalls 1970s Weather Report, especially on the title track and hints at Creed Taylor’s early CTI—the edgy “Stand Clear” is up-to-the-minute urban jazz while the ebullient “Half-Baked” shakes itself loose with a funkified Fender Rhodes. He thinks bigger by including brass arrangements and strings, pulling out the stops with chopped up time signatures (“A Day In Music”) and playing pretty when it matters (“As The Moon Disappears.”)
By now Escreet’s music has a recognizable signature. As a composer, Escreet favors the dramatic, where frontline horns led by saxophonist David Binney bleat over super-sized beats supplied by Marcus Gilmore and Wayne Krantz’s guitar growls with impunity. It’s as if his charts are written in oversized notes made by a blunt Sharpie in- stead of a #2 pencil. The constant in all of Escreet’s recordings is Mr. Binney and whether he’s playing mentor (he’s also the co-producer) or foil during Escreet’s turn at the keys, he’s a steady force for the pianist’s imagination and free-spirited invention.