The musical career of Russell Ferrante might be said to have risen to eminence in a gentle, almost nanoscopic arc. But make no mistake his musicianship and pianism has taken him exactly he deserves to be held: in a rarefied realm. Physically, Mr Ferrante cuts a nondescript figure, invariably leaning into the quiet intensity of his music; leaning, therefore, into the enormous concert grand that he plays. Those of us who are in the thrall of the instrument he has mastered will recognise his ingenuity – first in guitarist Robben Ford’s group and later in the iconic Yellowjackets, which Mr Ferrante co-helms.
But no matter what his discographical history Mr Ferrante may not have been dealt the fairest hand by an industry more preoccupied with its own inflated opinion of itself and the sycophantic media that has reported on it masquerading as “critics”. Besides on the sheer evidence of his vaunted pianism he has – also unwittingly – dwelled in the shadows of his peers – yes, I said peers – because that’s really who Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea have always been. Inflexion – a rare outing without his mates from Yellowjackets [and playing just a few works from the Yellowjackets repertoire] is an instantaneous revelation of Mr Ferrante’s true pianistic genius. In little over an hour Mr Ferrante – abetted by bassist Michael Valerio and drummer Steve Schaeffer – raises the curtain on a dazzling performance that shines a light on the virtuosity that he is blessed with and on his ability to evoke emotions through nuanced changes in mood, dynamics, tempi all in the magical conversation between his left and right hands. He could just as well have done it all himself but this is a trio reminiscent of the finest threesomes in music – ever.
Throughout, Mr Ferrante’s playing is grand and spacious, enhancing the underlying melodic intent and the emotion of this music. He constantly leads us to an altogether different world. It is full of glinting lights, mysterious depths, expectations and hopes, like the splintered shadows of a quasi-Mendelssohn scherzo glimpsed my moonlight in a forest. In sheer colour and variety, in the depth of characterisation and the exceptional range and refinement of his pianism, Mr Ferrante imparts a power and seductive stature to “Stick-to-it-iveness”, surrounding the rhapsody-like structure of the piece with the kind of bigness that few pianists can achieve.
With his deeply empathetic cohort of bassist and drummer [who is really a percussion colourist] Mr Ferrante sculpts the mighty inventions of the apogee of his recording – “Inflexion D” and its variation – “Inflexion A”. In the variety and stylishness of the rest of this enterprising programme Mr Ferrante brings urbanity and pure lyricism to works of maddening twists and turns – such as “Spoons” and “57 Chevy”, and in the elegant swing of “How Deep is the Ocean”.
Finally he gives us an object lesson in his sense of history and his inventiveness with his takes on Thelonious Monk’s “Rhythm-a-ning” and Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s “Isfahan” before closing with the aristocratic and buoyant spirituality of “We Shall Overcome”. All in all, this is what you might call a display of pianism and trio music of such quiet, yet debonair insolence that it becomes a record to absolutely die for…
Track list – 1: Stick-o-it-iveness; 2: Network of Mutuality; 3: Inflexion D; Rhythm-a-ning; 5: Isfahan; 6: Inflexion A; 7: Spoons; 8: I Do; 9: 57 Chevy; 10: How Deep is the Ocean; 11: We Shall Overcome
Personnel – Russell Ferrante: piano; Michael Valerio: contrabasse; Steve Schaeffer: drums
Released – 2021
Label – Blue Canoe Records [BC 1458]
Runtime – 1:12:25