Pianist/composer David Ake, whose previous Posi-Tone release "Bridges" was one of the more impressive CDs of 2013, has a new album. "Lake Effect" finds Ake in the company of Peter Epstein (alto and soprano saxophones), Sam Minaie (bass) and the master drummer Mark Ferber. There is so much to enjoy in this music from the articulate piano solos to the inventive playing of Epstein to the solid bass work and pay close attention to how Ferber moves the faster pieces and colors the ballads. Several of the tracks have the sound and feel of Keith Jarrett's "European" Quartet (with Jan Garbarek, Palle Danielson and Jan Christensen). "The Cubs" shows that influence in the soprano sax and drums interaction, in the winding road of the piano solo but also notice the vocal-like drumming. Notice the calypso feel in Thelonious Monk's "Bye-Ya", a joyful romp from the opening notes. Everybody gets to play the melody before Ake jumps into his solo, also an extension of that playful theme. Epstein roams far afield but never loses touch with the rhythm section.
A close look at the cover art will give a clue as to the introspective nature of the ballads. The program opens with Ake's original "Lone Pine (for Charlie Haden)" a solo piano piece that is emotionally rich, a simple melody that never loses its way. The melody unfolds slowly on "Tricycle", with Epstein moving high in the alto range; the intensity level ratchets up as well yet the piece never loses its legato flow. "Silver Thaw" opens with quiet piano chords before Ake plays the Erik Satie-like melody. Ferber's percussion is ever-so-soft behind the piano and it may be a moment before you even hear Epstein's alto playing along with the melody. Soprano and piano are the 2 voices on the lovely "Palhaço", an early work of Brazilian composer/pianist/guitarist Egberto Gismonti and I'm not sure mere words can describe the beauty of the performance. The program comes to a close with the title track, another piece that starts quietly (this time, with a bass solo) and slowly builds a fire but not before Ake plays an impressionistic solo. It's Epstein's alto solo that ignites the rhythm section and Ferber who stokes the fire, first in support then taking the lead. As as been stated before on this blog, engineer Nick O'Toole really knows how to record the drum set, putting the listener in the middle and never at the expense of the other instrumentalists.
The title "Lake Effect" may bring to mind cold wind and blowing snow but there is much warmth (and some playfulness) in the music of David Ake. Like fellow pianist Frank Kimbrough, he never wastes a note nor does he ever overplay. He makes certain all the musicians are involved (although I did not write much about bassist Minaie, his forcful work and melodic phrases are integral to the success of the quartet tracks.) Good music for the spring thaw, "Lake Effect" will please you any time of year.