Written on: 28/04/2011 by eugena (23 reviews written)
Solo piano music is a strange beast these days. Most of it gets airplay and coverage in the new age music world because it fits there better than most places and so many pianists have had sales success in that community starting way back when with George Winston. There are a few classical pianists who play solo, but no one pays much attention whether they play traditional repertoire like Chopin or write their own material and get lumped into the contemporary-classical or neo-classical genre. And finally there is a very small handful who work in the jazz field like Keith Jarrett, but no one knows whether to call them modern-mainstream-jazz, avant-garde or contemporary-jazz. It is all so confusing.
This brings us to the matter at hand, the second solo piano recording by Rick Cutler. A case could be made for placing this CD in either the new age or neo-classical music bins, but truly this New York City keyboardist most closely resembles the solo piano music of Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea in the early Seventies era, although those two tended to improvise their material into longer tunes, whereas Cutler's longest piece is 5:06 (and he has two under two minutes and five under three). But the way the tunes are structured and evolve has a definite feeling of Jarrett and Corea when they were not playing fusion with Miles Davis or Return to Forever in those days. However, Jarrett's playing was a little more flowing and had more air in it than Cutler, who is a bit more rhythmic (probably due to the fact that he also is an in-demand session and touring drummer). Cutler's background materials cite both Jarrett and Corea (and the entire Miles camp) as major influences. Plus Cutler studied under Corea and also had his own fusion band (Exit) in the Seventies (and they loaned out their rehearsal space to Return to Forever for awhile).
Although Cutler's bio says he does transcendental meditation, he seems to have less new age music ties than he does a jazz background. For example, Cutler has played behind lots of top jazz artists such as including Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, Harry Connick Jr., Billy Eckstine, Michael Franks, Larry Coryell, Noel Pointer and Jon Lucien. Cutler's album is strangely titled First Melancholy, Then The Night Stretch (if you get up and stretch in the middle of the night, do you lose your blues?). On it he dedicates several tunes to jazzsters -- "Thank You (For McCoy Tyner)," "Song for Noel" (Rick toured with Pointer for six years) and "Noise (For Tony Williams)." In addition, Cutler studied classical percussion and piano at the top-flight Juilliard School of Music, and on this CD he also does an original number titled "Debussy" as a tip-of-the-hat to that classical composer.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Cutler also has toured extensively with singer and tap-dance legend Gregory Hines and traditional songbird Liza Minnelli which put Rick in front of audiences all over the world. This must have helped shape his songwriting and performing sensibilities. But the closest to his sound would be if you sat Chick Corea down at a grand piano with a timer and said, "give me a three-and-a-half-minute improvisation." But let's face it, that is not bad company to keep. If you are going to listen to solo piano, why not try what Rick Cutler has to offer -- a solid rhythm, a melodic structure, interesting improvisations and jazz overtones. Check him out at humanrick.com.