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Cheryl Ann Spencer is a modern jazz pianist from Singapore. She earned a degree in banking and finance and for a period worked as a banker while raising two young children. In recent times, she earned a second degree in jazz and pursued her love of music, leading her regularly working Evolution Quartet. Serendipity in Venice, which is only available digitally, is her third album.
Recorded in Italy, Spencer’s relaxed and melodic music features a quintet that also includes Alex Sipiagin on trumpet and flugelhorn, Robert Bonisolo on tenor and soprano saxophones, bassist Makar Novikov and drummer Sasha Mashin. The leader contributed five of the six selections and arranged the “Love Theme From Cinema Paradiso.”
The opener, “Serendipity in Venice,” sets the stage for the set. Novikov’s bass brings in the piece with a haunting pattern. Spencer, Sipiagin and Bonisolo on soprano have their say — with the two horns adding a little fire — and the overall effect is cinematic. “Calling for Peace,” which is heard twice, sounds like a prayer with a modicum of intensity during the horn solos; it was inspired by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “Dreaming About Bags” is not Spencer’s reflection on vibraphonist Milt Jackson, but rather an affectionate reminiscence of a day job in which the pianist designed leather bags. The happy piece is boppish and has a singable melody.
An introspective mood returns with Spencer’s interpretation of the “Love Theme From Cinema Paradiso,” which is quietly emotional and notable for some beautiful soprano playing. “Voyage” (not the Kenny Barron song) is the most passionate piece, with Bonisolo on tenor and Sipiagin getting to cut loose a bit, and with Spencer functioning as a calming influence. The program concludes with the lightly funky “Reunion,” which subtly and effectively uses repetition.
While more mood variations would have made this a stronger album, Serendipity in Venice works well as a set of mostly soothing and quietly inventive music. — Scott Yanow