‘Already my favorite jazz album of 2010’
JOSÉ JAMESPerpetual shows a different side to Gideon Van Gelder, the pianist we already know from tracks like ‘Touch’ on Brownswood’s soul jazz conjurer José James’ LP Black Magic, and championed by the likes of Gilles Peterson.
Mostly written since his move to NYC in 2007, this collection of tracks is his response to the pacey East Coast environment - his musical postcard from the New York scene of today.
Gideon’s influences can seem appropriately caught in the cross-rhythms too, nodding to brazilian guitar virtuoso Toninho Horta and pioneering jazz composer Andrew Hill, as well as tutors of his Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn, and his mum, whose melodies Gideon likes to work into his own compositions sometimes.
But to get to the core of Perpetual, you have to know something of the man at the centre. Gideon has received a cabinet full of awards, but they don’t tell us anything about his spiritual leanings, or his vital sense of family. It’s no surprise that an award like the Andrew Hill Award from the Amsterdam Trust points to a major influence from the American free jazz pianist on Gideon’s music, but it’s not just technique or arrangement that drives his music. It’s all about telling a story, and the emotions behind that story - and conveying them through a sublime chord progression is a gift Gideon definitely has, as the closing breakdown in the title track neatly demonstrates.
Whether he’s in a studio setting with José James, or with his 6 piece band, Gideon knows how to tap into the heart strings, pulling intervals and transitions out of the piano like an expert osteopath. Gideon might have written the tunes, but it’s his group that breathes life into them every performance. With Rick Rosato (bass) and Flin van Hemmen (drums) powering the rhythm section, Gideon finds himself mediating between them and the twin saxes of Lucas Pino (tenor) and Lars Dietrich (alto). The five of them can turn from powerfully expressive to dextrously lyrical in the space of a turnaround, and generate a charged atmosphere for singer Becca Stevens to thread her absorbing, wordless vocal lines. It’s clearly jazz, but in the hands of masters like these, it’s definitely content over style.
While the album title could lead to any number of long conversations by the bar, about endless cycles and anxieties of the infinite, Gideon takes solace in the fact that we’re part of a wider continuum, a bigger picture. “It’s good to know there’s always something around the corner,” he says. Perpetual might be Gideon looking to the bigger picture, but he knows how to make the most of the moment too.