Chris Keefe, Opening Review
Chris Keefe, Opening Review
Chris Keefe’s Opening: A Debut Album That Echoes Musical Maturity
In my long list of jazz albums awaiting review—each artist representing a unique sound and presentation—the long-awaited debut as a bandleader, Opening, by pianist Chris Keefe has captured my attention. The album emerges not merely as an initial effort but as the sophisticated expression of a mature jazz musical soul. It is my sincere desire that you, too, will find common musical ground in its tones. Released under the label Zugzwangbebop Records on February 18, 2023, Opening is a significant moment in Keefe’s musical career. It features seven enthralling tracks, three of which are Keefe’s own compositions, backed by the luminary talents of bassist Harvie S and drummer Adam Nussbaum. Opening crystallizes Keefe’s expertise, earned through rigorous study and invaluable stage experience.
Keefe’s journey through the world of jazz has seen him gracing stages across North America, performing alongside distinguished artists like Joe LaBarbera and Antonio Sanchez. His educational background is as impressive as his gig sheet, having received his degrees from the esteemed New England Conservatory of Music and Manhattan School of Music. This academic lineage shows in his mastery of the keys, as does his tutelage under the likes of Kenny Werner and Danilo Perez. And let’s not forget his stint as a faculty member at various esteemed schools; clearly, Keefe knows how to articulate his musical thoughts both on and off the keyboard.
Opening begins with Keefe’s original, “Got a Chick?,” a composition that not only serves as an inviting opener but also as a microcosm of the album’s strengths. The track exhibits Keefe’s innovation, harmonically intriguing and melodically catchy. Harvie S’s bass is an infallible foundation; it’s a melodic voice that dialogues with Keefe’s keys. Drummer Adam Nussbaum adds a textured rhythmic layer, exemplifying the virtue of subtlety over bombast. Together, the trio fluently converses in the intricate language of jazz.
Keefe’s originals, “Modern” and “Chobim,” carry on in the same vein, each brimming with compositional maturity and a clear understanding of trio dynamics. “Chobim” is a particularly remarkable piece that sees Keefe embracing cross-genre motifs, stretching the conventional boundaries of jazz without forsaking its traditions. Anchored by a straight-eight groove—a rhythmic pattern that lends itself to both stability and openness—the theme ingeniously incorporates elements from both Chopin and Jobim, making the piece a compelling blend of classical nuance and Latin flair.
The album’s arrangements of standard jazz tunes serve as an acute indication of Keefe’s meticulous attention to detail and his knack for imaginative reinterpretation. Noteworthy among these are “Along Came Betty,” a Golson classic, and “I Fall In Love Too Easily,” immortalized by Styne and Cahn. In his approach to these well-trodden pieces, Keefe strikes a delicate balance: he honors the structural and emotional integrity of the originals while weaving in his own idiosyncratic embellishments. Particularly in his solos, his patient pacing shines; his clear melodic outlines of chordal progressions in both tracks stand as excellent examples of his musical acumen.
Throughout the album, echoes of jazz legends from Wynton Kelly to Keith Jarrett are apparent, yet Keefe masterfully crafts these influences into something unmistakably his own. His style is a mélange of his musical upbringing, the years of rigorous training, and the invaluable experience gained from live performances and teachings.
Opening answers a question that its sheer quality prompts: ‘Why hasn’t he recorded before?’ This isn’t just an album that marks his arrival; it underscores Keefe’s undeniable capabilities as a leader, composer, and pianist of exceptional caliber. The album unfolds a cohesive, interactive, and deeply compelling narrative that exceeds the traditional expectations of a debut album. In a field brimming with unique talents and distinctive sounds, Keefe’s debut hasn’t just captured my attention—it’s captivated my musical senses, signaling a promising future that we should all be eager to tune into. For those looking to delve deeper into this sonic tapestry, the album is available on Chris Keefe’s website, chriskeefemusic.com, and undoubtedly warrants multiple listens to fully grasp its layered depths.
February 18, 2023