Roberta Piket: Emanation (Solo: Volume 2)
I‘ve known Roberta Piket for over twenty years. It’s been fascinating and very rewarding for me to be first her teacher and now her friend. Over the years, I’ve had the happy opportunity to watch her development and growth, specifically coming together in this new, incredible solo piano CD that you hold in your hands.
Solo piano is very different from any other instrumental recording situation. It is the Mount Everest of challenges for a jazz pianist, because all the burden of interest and variety is placed in the pianist’s hands.
Roberta has a history of many excellent and eclectic CDs, including trio, quintet, trio with strings and winds, and even electric jazz. But this is only her second solo piano CD, and it was truly worth the wait.
One of the things I like so much about this CD is Roberta’s ability to distribute the different functions of the piano, while still maintaining a very smooth motivic and emotional development. The piano has three registers: bass, middle and treble; and we only have two hands. So there has to be a sense of an invisible juggling going on. Like a juggler, there’s always one ball in the air. In solo piano playing, especially from medium tempo to up-tempos, the pianists must create the illusion of the three registers being satisfied, and this is done by a skillful manipulation of the bass notes, the chord and the melody. We must create the illusion of all three being utilized. Roberta has developed this skill over the last few years, and I’m happy to say it’s totally happening.
The program is a wonderful travelogue through many moods and colors, providing a balance of variety and unity which is critically important in a solo CD. Her touch is elegant, expressive and musical. Most important, there is an extraordinary emotional intensity that one rarely finds in today’s overloaded recording industry.
My favorite piece is the Chopin, which concludes the CD. This is something I myself have been very involved with: taking beautiful short classical pieces and opening them up for improvisation. Roberta has picked the second Chopin piano prelude, which is very rarely played, and has never, to my knowledge, been so creatively reharmonized and recomposed. It’s truly an amazing creative and musical accomplishment. This one-page stunning dark gem of a masterpiece has undergone a complete transformation. Roberta has taken this 150-year old miniature and opened up the already very chromatic original left hand accompaniment to support a fantasia of almost atonal improvisations that somehow sound completely right! It’s as though the Polish master had come back and sat down at the piano and said to Roberta, “I will play the left hand accompaniment, dear, and you… you must go ahead and IMPROVISE!
But forget about my words. Just listen to how deep and purely beautiful it sounds.
Another favorite of mine is the free piece, named Emanation. This piece demonstrates Roberta’s ability to achieve compositional unity in a free improvisational setting. It is absolutely mysterious, beautifully ambiguous harmonically, but with the steel wire of motivic development always there to keep it from being just a musically empty collection of pretty sounds, or worse… boring.
Actual Proof is another highlight of the CD. It is a funk composition by Herbie Hancock recorded in the ’70s with an electric band during Herbie’s Headhunters period. What’s amazing about this solo piano version is that, because of the complexity of the arrangement, it shouldn’t be possible. But Roberta manages not just to do it well but spectacularly. Somehow she is able to get across all the parts, convey the rhythmic feel, and play a very interesting improvised solo over this complex form. I’m sure that if Herbie heard it he would love it.
The remainder of Roberta’s program consists primarily of brilliantly reharmonized and recomposed standard jazz warhorses, starting with Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise. I have a long history with this tune, so I have a special appreciation for Roberta’s very different interpretation. It is a burning, twisting and airborne excursion. The smoking intensity of the pedal point harmonic expansions on the ‘A’ sections juxtaposed with the relief of the tension at the bridge make this performance a tour de force.
Haunted Heart wiped me out emotionally. Delicate and beautifully played, it will take your heart.
Other wonderful standards like All the Things You Are and Con Alma (in 7 with a 3 + 4 clave!), plus the lovely original, Saying Goodbye, are included for total balance.
As I said, I’ve known Roberta for a long time. She has truly grown up and matured along with her music. After all, we jazz musicians are what we play, and vice versa.
There are so many solo piano CDs coming out. Happily, this is one of the very best. I hope that you enjoy listening to this recording, and experiencing Roberta’s growth as an artist and a person, as much as I have.
December 2014, Leipzig, Germany
Richie Beirach is one of the preeminent pianists of his generation, well-known for his work with Stan Getz, Chet Baker, John Abercrombie (among countless others) and his 40-year musical partnership with David Liebman. He has recorded over 70 albums as a leader or co-leader. Since 2000, Richie has lived in Leipzig and held a professorship of jazz piano at the Leipzig conservatory Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy.