John Escreet – Learn to Live (Blue Room)

John Escreet likes to take risks. The UK-born keyboardist’s previous two albums were firmly in the free-improvisation realm, with support from masters of experimental music, including drummer Tyshawn Sorey and saxophonist Evan Parker. While the pieces on his latest offering work within compositional structures, there’s still plenty of space for open improvisation. And Escreet’s still stretching himself here, this time by incorporating synthesizers and Fender Rhodes to create an electro-acoustic hybrid that pushes stylistic boundaries in mostly compelling ways.

Escreet’s compositions tend to fold and unfold in layers. “A World Without Guns” starts with the foundation of Escreet’s introspective solo piano, then segues into a soulful piano trio before Greg Osby’s alto saxophone solo completes the structure. He goes all out on the title track, a 10-minute excursion through various electronic forms and textures, ranging from squawking 1970s prog rock to experimental music to jazz fusion. It’s by turns fascinating and grating, though the energy throughout is undeniable.

Escreet doesn’t abandon his avant-garde side altogether. “Test Run” features drummers Eric Harland and Justin Brown creating a swirl of patterns underneath Escreet’s percussive piano and Osby’s snaking lines. “Contradictions” is a knotty tune with a skittering rhythm that Osby weaves through deftly. Nicholas Payton’s probing trumpet phrases and Escreet’s dissonant piano clusters and off-kilter vamps drive the energy on the subtly shifting “Smokescreen.” But even in these cases, the group eventually finds its way toward a distinctive groove. On the other hand, “Lady T’s Vibe” puts the groove front and center, punctuated by Matt Brewer’s funky electric bass lines, Payton’s melodic solo and Teresa Lee’s ethereal, wordless vocals.

Stylistically diverse and often operating beyond genre category, there’s a lot going on over the course of these 10 tracks. But it only seems natural that a musician as probing as Escreet would craft such a wide-ranging work of fusion.— John Frederick Moore

Feature photo by Shervin Lainez.

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