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There is no easy way to describe Tree Falls, pianist Taylor Eigsti’s first album as a leader in more than a decade. Using the “needle drop” sampling method across its diverse tracks doesn’t help much in clarifying a neat stylistic through line, except to deliver the album’s ultimate message of honest eclecticism and remaining true to a restless heart and ear.
Eigsti’s new burst of musical energy illustrates the stylistic fluidity of what can constitute a modern jazz album, and he has potent allies in genre-flexible collaborators such as drummer Eric Harland (whose label/studio GSI was home base for this project) and vocalists Gretchen Parlato and Becca Stevens. The prodigious, accessible pianist has kept busy over the years, but waited for a ripe moment to unleash a carefully considered album that doubles as an artistic statement.
Instrumental and vocal aspects, as on the infectious jazz-infused R&B tune “Play With Me,” easily intermingle. On tracks like “Sparky” and “Bandwiches,” feisty post-fusion energies — albeit with a fervent grand piano in the driver’s seat — mix it up with lyrical, heart-on-sleeve melodicism. Occasional homespun “field recordings” counterbalance elegant visitations from selective string parts.
Not incidentally, echoes of jazz historical depth also logically figure into the DNA here, as with Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark,” revisited in a cool, complex, freely re-harmonizing mode. And, on the stunning, post-Joni Mitchell-esque tune “Plane Over Kansas” — a duet between the leader and Becca Stevens — the singer slyly name-checks the standard “But Beautiful” in the flow of poetic text.
Somehow, the varied directions and flavors contained here cohere into an impressive tapestry and portrait of an artist emerging from a 10-year hiatus. — Josef Woodard