Our friends at Newvelle Records, a premier vinyl-only album subscription service, just released a teaser video from one of their most exciting projects to date: an unreleased take from pianist Billy Lester’s recent album From Scratch, which arrived in June as part of Newvelle’s Season Four subscription package.
Lester is a “musician’s musician” and the kind of piano player that jazz fans love to discover: a quietly brilliant mind that has been building his own unique voice and sound for decades, just barely outside the jazz spotlight. Based in Yonkers, New York, he’s a mostly unheralded name in jazz, having spent the past 30 years raising a family and teaching piano lessons in his hometown. But his history bears out some fascinating details. For one, he was mentored by the late piano virtuoso Sal Mosca, who himself was a longtime accompanist for the saxophonist Lee Konitz.
More importantly, both Mosca and Lester belong to the family tree of jazz pianists connected to Lennie Tristano, who is said to have planted the seeds for free jazz, improvising over spontaneous chord structures nearly a decade before Ornette Coleman’s revolutionary debut. As was certainly the case with his mentors, Lester’s playing is gentle and probing, yet solid enough to carry strong melodic lines. It’s subtly transportive. Listening to it, you’ll find yourself getting swept away without even realizing you’re moving.
As you’ll see in this video for “Out of Nowhere” — in which Lester is joined by the first-rate rhythm team of Rufus Reid on bass and Matt Wilson on drums —Lester is a master of simplicity, saying much with little. It’s a refreshing aesthetic in jazz, and it’s one that he clearly and easily shares with his trio. Like all Newvelle albums, it was recorded at East Side Sound in New York City, where it was engineered by five-time nominated and three-time Grammy Award-winning recording and mixing engineer Marc Urselli, using an entirely analog console.
“We were blown away by Billy’s sound and approach to the piano,” said Elan Mehler, Newvelle’s co-founder. Listening to “Out of Nowhere,” it’s easy to see why. The song, fitting for the pianist’s long overdue emergence from the shadows, has both the grandeur of a debut and the momentum of a lifelong pursuit.
Newvelle Records is shooting a short documentary about Billy’s unique life and approach so look for more about this coming soon. For more information on Newvelle, or to subscribe for Season Four, visit the label’s website.