Though the “child prodigy” or “instant success” story is a meme repeated over and over again in the jazz world, there is an equally strong history of musicians and composers who grew over the years and hit their strides in mid-life, one of whom is pianist/composer David Kikoski. Kikoski seems to have played with everyone at some point, most famously with the essential, irreplaceable Mingus Big Band and on solo projects with various current and former members of that continually evolving ensemble. Now aged 51 with a string of successful solo and group sessions recorded, Kikoski seems to be at the peak of his powers on his new release Consequences with Christian McBride on bass and Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums.
I’d heard Kikoski play with the Mingus Big Band live, but what drew me to this release was the presence of McBride, to my mind jazz’s most important bass player since Mingus. Though I don’t claim to hear any direct or obvious Mingus influence on this disk, I think the players’ common love of Mingus brought them together and this grouping works beautifully. The power and precision of their group improvisation—most especially on the first few tracks—is a high mark for jazz releases of 2012.
Kikoski handles the “architecture” of the CD adroitly. The early tracks are upbeat and fast, often to the point of a kind of joyous furiousness. The later tracks are more introspective without ever tipping over into melancholy. The disk ends with Kikoski playing a solo “Never Let Me Go” of great passion and intelligence.
On “(Still) A Glimmer of Hope” Kikoski and company manage the neat trick of having a genuinely “hopeful” and “optimistic” song that doesn’t seem fake or unaware of how difficult it usually is to hope. For me, this is the highlight of the session.
If I were to pick at one small nit, though I believe Watts plays skillfully throughout and the two Watts’ compositions on the disk are quite good, Kikoski permits Watts to indulge in drum solos beyond my personal patience for such things. I am freely willing to admit this is my shortcoming and not the music’s, but I must bring with me the tools and tastes that I have when I listen. In no way do I wish to suggest that this ruins the set or interferes with the very genuine pleasure this music offers.
With that one small personal reservation in mind, I wholly endorse Consequences otherwise. It is a set to enjoy and delight in over the course of repeated listenings. In particular, the early, more buoyant tracks will grow on the attentive listener. The movement of the music from extroversion at the start to meditation by the end gives the set a coherence that in no way diminishes the beauty of individual tracks.