What’s On from the Lansing State Journal


Review from LSJ :  3/12/09

Longtime jazz pianist Arlene McDaniel releases fresh 'Timeless' CD Review

Chris Rietz | For the Lansing State Journal

She's deep into her third decade playing jazz piano in the Lansing area - especially in the intimate venues like Coral Gables, Cappuccino Cafe or The Exchange - but Arlene McDaniel has finally decided to issue her first album, "Timeless," just out this month.

The Arlene McDaniel Trio, also featuring local heavyweights Ian Levine on drums and bassist Gene Rebeck, is a classic piano-based small combo, the kind that cries "cocktail lounge" to many listeners.

In this regard, the Trio isn't trying to blaze any new stylistic trails, but "Timeless" is worth a listen, for two reasons. First of all, Arlene McDaniel not only plays well - and she does play very well - she plays real jazz, by its strictest definition: she plays real improvised choruses, with a supple, blues-based jazz vocabulary, and enough awareness of the jazz canon that she has a nose for what's fresh and what isn't.

Rodgers and Hammerstein's "The Sound of Music," one of only three covers here, is ingrained in the neural synapses of every living person by now, but the melodic richness she improvises out of this old chestnut is a revelation - and at just under nine minutes, it's the album's longest track.

Her austere, cool style owes much to Dave Brubeck and the West Coast style he embodied; although her deft touch, a penchant for pearly tone and a willingness to let notes breathe on their own suggest a debt to Bill Evans as well.

The other winning quality in "Timeless" is that if you wait 27 years to make your first album, you'll have quite a fund of material to choose from; and indeed the McDaniel originals - nine of the CD's 12 tracks - are the CD's true selling point.

The opening track, the bop-ish "Some Odd Swing Thing, " is a singable head twisted by an odd set of asymmetric phrases; "Half-Whole Samba" could have been just another bit of faux tropicalia but for her startling use of the diminished scale.

The gorgeous "Lazy Afternoons" - a theme she first developed as an MSU undergrad - is the finest of the album's several ballads, harmonically sophisticated but again singable. "Monk-Like" is an able and ambitious nod to jazzdom's eccentric genius, complete with dissonant intervals and stabbing discords.