Usually, when I write about music, it’s about records I have owned for years and songs I must have listened to hundreds of times. As a result I’m always very familiar with the work and have ample time to make it part of who I am, interwoven with thoughts and feelings I’ve had at various times in my life. For this review though, I have taken a different approach. This is a record that has come into my possession just a few days ago. I’ve listened to it four times so far and was surprised at how quickly I’ve warmed up to it. Without further ado I present Jason Domnarski’s Here And There.
Released June 25th 2012 this is Domnarski’s third "full" studio album and fourth overall (his 2010 release Vices contained "only" four tracks, though many would agree it delivered more MUSIC than most 12-track records available on the market today). While Vices pretty much felt like a continuation of his excellent Inventing the Wheel (2009), his most recent record, though equally good, could not be more different from that sound. Here And There is the most conservative album Domnarski has released so far. The sound is, for the first time, that of a pure piano-jazz. If you’ve ever listened to Domnarski’s music before (and if you havn’t what are you waiting for?) this young pianist is far more concerned with melody than he is with being embraced by the traditional piano-jazz "crowd."
At the risk of never becoming Manfred Eicher’s favorite pianist, Domnarski offered compositions that were always on the experimental side, while always being in touch with the intrinsic musicality of his instrument. As he proved from the get-go (his first album, Notes from Underground was launched in 2008) Domnarski has an excellent ear for melody (just like Tom Waits always rightfully claimed to have when it comes to playing the piano) and, more importantly, he is not afraid to experiment with his sound. His other albums differ sensibly from each other (again, Inventing the Wheel and Vices come as a package) each with its own distinctive character, each telling a completely different story, a feat most admirable for such a young musician.
Well, after proving that he is more than capable of carving out his own niche, and that he is not afraid to start from scratch and offer something completely new, Domnarski now makes a 180 and proves that, if he so desires, he too can be "old-school." Here And There is a very traditional work when it comes to piano-jazz, with an almost late-night-jazz-club feel which leaves the impression that Domnarski is attempting to prove himself on brand-new terrain. Also, one can’t help but notice that this is his first record not released under the name "The Jason Domnarski Trio." This suggests that it’s a deeply personal project for the pianist, that he is fighting his own battle in the Jazz-arena in front of a crowd of purists. Paradoxically, this is also the album with the most evenly divided "screen time" between the instruments as his band, this time comprised of John Davis on bass and David Burnett on drums, seems more prominent than on Notes and Wheel.
Though Domnarski is an American musician, and although his album was recorded in Brooklynm, NY of all places, throughout the record one can clearly hear the European influence (he is currently residing in Paris) with the style of the album at times reminiscent of Marcin Wasilewski (see "Night Train To You"), Manu Katche (Burnett’s drums) Nik Bärtsch and even Eric Satie (especially on the third track, the hauntingly beautiful "Streamlines"). About mid-record he starts sounding like the Jason Domnarski of old (and by old I mean tracks like "Newyorkistan" off his first album) reminding the listener that wheter experimental or classic he has never lost touch with the core of his sound which, in essence, remains the same.
The toned-down, slow-tempo "Evening Man" serves to reiterate that this is a record of heritage and the more than capable Burnett and Davis provide the perfect accompaniment to offer the entire record a cohesive nature, a sense of structure. As it progresses we notice that while some tunes, such as "Kensington" and "Streamlines" stick with you more easily, Domnarski has abandoned the "earworm" (ever-present in the first albums) for songs that are more mature, completely ripe for picking only after having experienced them a few times.
For the first-time listener, Here And There presents one of the most promising jazz pianists of the moment on his first venture into the fertile lands of classic jazz. For those familiar with his work, Jason Domnarski shows, by abandoning the experimental for the traditional, that no style is foreign to him, that no task is too complicated and, most importantly, that his focus is on the quality of the music he produces.