New album coming October 7th on Whirlwind Recordings
PIANIST JOHN ESCREET BRINGS CLARITY AND PURPOSE TO SEISMIC SHIFT, HIS FIRST-EVER TRIO RECORDING
Original compositions and fully improvised pieces with fellow Los Angeles residents
Eric Revis (bass) and Damion Reid (drums)
Pianist John Escreet, hailed by Time Out London as a “transatlantic jazz genius,” continues his artistic ascent with the bold, exploratory new album Seismic Shift (Whirlwind Recordings). It is Escreet’s ninth album as a leader but his first at the helm of a trio, and also one of the first to see release since his move to the West Coast in early 2020.
The UK native, former Brooklynite and now Los Angeles transplant teams up with fellow Angelenos Eric Revis (bass) and Damion Reid (drums) for a set brimming with fire and invention. Seismic Shift offers ground-shaking evidence that Escreet, with his limitless technique, harmonic imagination and refined grasp of the improviser’s art, ranks as one of the top pianist-auteurs of our time. Equally at home in mainstream, electric, avant-garde and world jazz contexts, he has also built a reputation as a versatile sideman and collaborator with credits including Antonio Sanchez, Tyshawn Sorey, Amir ElSaffar, David Binney, and Evan Parker to name a few.
The world of Seismic Shift is on one level what the title implies: it involves tumult, rupture, earthquake. Escreet and his colleagues unleash a lot of power, whether freely improvising, sculpting sound with extended techniques, or for that matter playing elegant tonal harmony. “Any music I present needs to be varied,” Escreet says. “There needs to be beauty alongside the wild moments, moments of tonality against moments of abstraction. Most of all, any idea put forward, whether composed or improvised, needs to have clarity and purpose.”
As Escreet found after playing a post-pandemic “comeback” gig with Revis and Reid for the first time in June 2021, clarity and purpose is something that happens easily with this trio. While circumstances brought the three together in LA, they had all made their professional reputations on the New York music scene. Revis, an esteemed leader in his own right (Sing Me Some Cry, Slipknots Through a Looking Glass), with vast experience ranging from Branford Marsalis to Peter Brötzmann, is one of the world’s most compelling personalities on upright bass. “Eric’s sound and presence are so strong it feels like the center of the universe,” Escreet marvels. Reid, whose credits include Robert Glasper, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Steve Lehman and more, shares with Escreet a highly compatible rhythmic sense. “He hears all the details and nuances of whatever I’m doing,” the pianist adds, “and can match me energy-wise at any given moment. We hung out a lot over the pandemic as we live not far from each other, so we spent a lot of time shedding ideas together as a duo. The whole process evolved very naturally.”
“RD,” short for Revis/Damion, is something Escreet planned specifically for that inaugural gig. It begins with improvisation loosely based on written melodic material, then on cue shifts to a more discernible harmonic progression, a roiling vamp that causes sparks to fly. “Perpetual Love” and the closing “The Water Is Tasting Worse” also have prescribed harmonic components, whereas “Outward and Upward” is entirely improvised — yet no less harmonically involved thanks to Escreet’s mountainous Stravinsky-like polytonal clusters and bursting, angular lines.
“Outward and Upward” is exactly the encouragement Escreet once received from late piano master Stanley Cowell, whose modern classic “Equipoise” is the one non-original on Seismic Shift. (Escreet also interpreted Muhal Richard Abrams’ “Charlie in the Parker,” on his 2010 release Don’t Fight the Inevitable.) “I met Mr. Cowell through Nasheet Waits and we had some great email exchanges,” Escreet recalls, “where he elaborated at length about many things — musical conceptions, career advice and more. I started playing ‘Equipoise’ after he passed in December 2020. The version I referenced is from Musa—Ancestral Streams (Strata-East, 1974), one of the all-time great solo piano albums. The song somehow conjures up a magical vibe every time it is played. It seems to get straight to the heart of the matter.”
Escreet’s recordings have typically involved horns: the free quartet outings with Evan Parker, John Hébert and Tyshawn Sorey, Sound, Space and Structures and The Unknown, are among the most notable examples. On such releases as Learn to Live, Sabotage and Celebration and The Age We Live In, Escreet has pushed the conceptual envelope, whether incorporating the funky, advanced solid-body guitar work of Wayne Krantz, a larger canvas of strings or additional horns, or the otherworldly sonic flavor of the Prophet-6 synthesizer as tools to capture the most of what he was hearing. The pandemic, not surprisingly, forced him to shelve it all. A period of intensive piano practice ensued, and with it came a newfound confidence. “I came into possession of a really beautiful grand piano, so all of this time practicing on this beautiful instrument in a dedicated workspace meant that I essentially became a much better piano player. Seismic Shift developed within this framework. It’s the reason I decided to record with the trio exclusively: I finally felt strong enough to step out front and ‘lead’ this group.”