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Criss Cross: Exploring the Music of Monk & Bill Evans
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Pianist Florian Weber's career has developed very quickly in the last years, he splits his time now between Cologne, New York and Tokyo. He is no stranger to the demands and endless rewards of trio performance. On 'Criss Cross' (subtitled Exploring the Music of Bill Evans and Monk), Weber debuts another type of trio, this one with no bassist. Joining him in this homage to two of his major piano influences are two formidable musicians and leaders, Donny McCaslin and Dan Weiss.
Criss Cross, the new trio album by German keyboardist Florian Weber, is billed as a tribute to two of the greatest piano minds of the 20th century: Thelonious Monk and Bill Evans. The album's sonic territory a welcome blend of compositions by these piano giants is standard fare. Weber's stylistic approach, however, is anything but. It begins with the album's personnel, which, in addition to Weber, includes the multifaceted drummer Dan Weiss and the boundary- pushing saxophonist Donny McCaslin. The absence of a bassist allows the trio to maneuver through harmonic and stylistic gears with fluid proficiency, as is the case on their treatment of Evans 't.t.t.t.,' which incorporates a rhythmic tic that renders the 6/4 time signature almost unrecognizable. Streamlining the dynamic even further, Weber will occasionally pare the group down to a duo, as on Evans' 'Time Remembered,' on which McCaslin exhibits a hushed, painterly sensitivity in dialogue with Weber's luxurious Fender Rhodes, and Monk's 'Ruby My Dear,' on which Weber and Weiss spar with terse, delicate phrases. As a stylist, Weber falls somewhere in the middle of the Monk-Evans spectrum, with a technique that favors slowly developing left-hand flourishes and an ear that tends toward close harmonic clusters. It's a style that shines brightest when Weber is left to ruminate on his own, as on the solo rendition of Evans 'Since We Met.' Weber's homage to his piano heroes is more a respectful gesture than an act of imitation, a notion reinforced by the inclusion of 'Judas,' a tune by Lady Gaga, into the middle of this 10-track program. Granted, there is a connection here Lady Gaga and Evans both worked extensively with Tony Bennett but Weber approaches the tune from a different perspective: 'The tune is a metaphor for giving everything a chance,' he says in the liner notes. 'You can find beauty.' With Criss Cross, Weber certainly has. --DownBeat Magazine
There's no manqueing around here as the piano man makes a bass less trio with two other rising contemporary all stars and plays piano tribute to the polar opposites of Bill Evans and Thelonious Monk. With the right touch, you can take anything anywhere. A sitting down set that does it right, this piano jazz trio starts out with the good stuff and takes it home from there. A sure treat for piano ears. Well done.
Volume 39/Number 136
March 16, 2016 --Midwest Record
Florian Weber is a tremendous pianist. --DownBeat Magazine
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I hadn’t heard Weber before but he comes with an impressive background: studied at Berklee and (later?) with pianists John Taylor, Joanne Brackeen, Paul Bley and Richie Beirach and saxophone Zen master Lee Konitz. It looks like most of his performing since has been in his native Germany (which could explain why I haven’t run across him before). He is joined here by tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin, who has played in the orchestras of Gil Evans, George Gruntz and Maria Schneider, and with Dave Douglas, Antonio Sanchez, Danilo Perez and even David Bowie, and drummer Dan Weiss, whose credits include Konitz, Rudresh Mahantthapa and Kenny Werner. The music they play together is intriguing both because of the mix of instruments –one horn, keyboard, percussion—and the choice of songs to play –all but one by Bill Evans or Thelonious Monk. (The exception is a Lady Gaga tune, “Judas.”)
All three play exceptionally well –with drive where needed, restraint where restraint is needed too, and plenty of musical imagination. Weber and associates have no reluctance to reconfigure these tunes –the Evans tunes more than the Monk’s—but it’s not done to realize some spurious vision of ‘originality,’ rather, to bring out new potentialities in the songs.
The album starts with Weber alone, on electric piano, playing a standard that Evans made his own, the lovely, lyrical ballad, “Spring Is Here.” Weber’s statement of the theme is simple and clear and he moves on to improvise on acoustic piano. I was never as crazy about Evans on electric keyboard as on acoustic but here, it works, and it sets up the mood that follows. Another Evans tune follows, one he wrote, “t t t t,” played by the trio. McCaslin is in front, a brisk bustling solo, with Weber’s piano rippling behind and subtle reworkings of the original rhythm by Weiss. It’s vigorous, intelligent, great listening material. That’s true through the rest of the album. This is highly superior stuff, preformed by three musicians who dig each other and the exceptional music they are playing. Weber doesn’t sound like either Monk or Evans, rather somewhere between but borrowing from both. McCaslin, another musician I hadn’t heard before, is first-rate. And Weiss –Weiss reminds me of Paul Motian, which is certainly appropriate on an album that includes tunes by Motian’s former trio-mate Evans. But Weiss most echoes Motian not on an Evans tune, but on the Monk ballad, one of his most beautiful, “Ruby My Dear,” his drums playing below Weber, spare, often just a whisper of sound, adding a rhythmic countermelody to Weber’s piano. The album ends as it started, Weber’s piano, this time accompanied by Weiss on drums, playing Monk’s best known song, “’Round Midnight.”
Believe me. This album’s a keeper.