Aaron Diehl’s ‘The Bespoke Man’s Narrative’ CD Triumphantly Captures Rich, Vibrant and Impeccable Sounds of Modern Jazz Quartet

Photo 1By Danny R. Johnson

NEW YORK, NY – The Bespoke Man’s Narrative CD to be released on March 19, 2013, by Mack Avenue Records, provides jazz pianist, arranger, and composer Aaron Diehl the unique opportunity to share with the music world his extraordinary talent in formulating complex and enjoyable jazz compositions through an antithetical strategy that emphasizes understatement and dignity.

Diehl’s concept of The Bespoke Man’s Narrative is to reflect a certain kind of order and discipline — but at the same time allow the artists performing to exert individuality, uniqueness and creativity in their approach to the 10 musical selections on the CD.

“The idea for the metaphor was that the composition and concept were specifically for these musicians,” Diehl says, referring to his working quartet of 30-ish all-stars – vibraphonist (and Mack Avenue artist) Warren Wolf, bassist David Wong and drummer Rodney Green – that interprets the five originals and five arrangements comprising the program. “There’s a sequence, an arc, a beginning, middle and end. Each piece has something to do with my musical development.”

The Aaron Diehl Quartet: L-R, Vibraphonist Warren Wolf, Bassist David Wong, Pianist Aaron Diehl, and Drummer Rodney Green. Photo by John Abbott

The Aaron Diehl Quartet: L-R, Vibraphonist Warren Wolf, Bassist David Wong, Pianist Aaron Diehl, and Drummer Rodney Green. Photo by John Abbott

If all this sounds familiar to the seasoned jazz aficionado, you guess it right – Diehl’s approach to his debut album, The Bespoke Man’s Narrative, is model after John Lewis’ Modern Jazz Quartet (MJQ).

The MJQ was John Lewis’ greatest achievement. Of course the individual talents of each member were critical to the group’s longevity and artistic accomplishments. But even more important was the vision that defined how those talents would be employed, and that vision was entirely Lewis’. And the incredible Aaron Diehl has successfully pulled off a remarkable feat by employing the John Lewis technique with the artists in The Bespoke Man’s Narrative.

One need only to listen to vibraphonist Warren Wolf in other settings, where his fiery style was allowed to burn hotter, or to drummer Rodney Green, whose playing is almost is never as stark as when he adds his personal touches to each selections in the quartet arrangements, and bassist David Wong executes a delicate and graceful style complimentary to his fellow musicians. In fact, Diehl’s quartet shares a deep fondness and respect for the late MJQ drummer Connie Kay, as well as pianist John Lewis, vibraphonist Milt Jackson, and bassist Percy Heath.

The 26 year-old winner of the prestigious 2011 American Pianists Association Cole Porter Fellowship in Jazz, Diehl’s approach to producing the compositions in this CD is elegant, as well as having an emotional reserve; this is apparent in the spare, on-the-beat chords of the Single Petal of a Rose track, my personal favorite, with its impeccable placement and economy in which he eloquently shines in his solo performance. Simply a beautiful work of art!

It should be noted that Diehl is playing on the most sophisticated piano in the world — the Fazioli Model F278 Grand Piano, which he was able to reproduce the piano’s magnificent transmitting power, its extensive dynamic range and harmonic richness can be heard throughout this CD.

The Modern Jazz Quartet: L-R, Bassist Percy Heath, Vibraphonist Milt Jackson, Pianist John Lewis, and Drummer Connie Kay.

The Modern Jazz Quartet: L-R, Bassist Percy Heath, Vibraphonist Milt Jackson, Pianist John Lewis, and Drummer Connie Kay.

Diehl’s accompaniment is slightly more active on Lewis’ 1966 masterpiece, The Cylinder track, yet there is still an objective, detached quality to the way he drops tidy little figures, the bare minimum to nudge the beat and add dash of flavor, to the flow. The tune is a perennial favorite of Diehl’s setting, which is animated by the conceit that this blues “has the rickety feeling of an old car” as Lewis once said about the tune when he first played it. From the canonical theme statement to the humorous close, piloted by drummer Green, the performance is a model of interplay. Diehl suggests the stride piano tradition in his use of time and early Count Basie in the defining purity of his chords.

Aaron Diehl’s The Bespoke Man’s Narrative is an important piece of musical jazz fine art because it reminds us, as a practical matter, knowing what came before us can have real value in suggesting solutions to present problems in the world. Music is a universal language that speaks volume to the masses. Diehl’s fascination and respect for the influential and important work of Lewis’ MJQ will provide additional light on an earlier era of jazz which refuses to die, but is continuously progressing.

For more information on Aaron Diehl, please visit: www.aarondiehl.com

Danny R. Johnson is San Diego County News’ Jazz and Pop Music Critic.

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