In the last two decades, jazz pianist Chris Lomheim has performed with some of the most notable vocalists in the Twin Cities. He's also one of the driving forces in the Illicit Sextet.
This weekend at St. Paul's Studio Z, he will debut "Timeline," a vibrant new recording that reunites him with two other impeccable Twin Cities voices in bassist Gordy Johnson and drummer Jay Epstein.
Twenty years ago, they helped a young Lomheim bring his compositions to a larger audience with "And You've Been Waiting." The live session at the Wild Sound studio in Minneapolis highlighted the composer's gentle yet stirring approach to improvisation.
"Timeline," recorded at the same studio, shows how Lomheim may well shine brightest in the classic trio setting.
While some trios might use a percussive approach or build on opening themes with frenetic activity, Lomheim and is bandmates start with strong melodies. They color them with alluring chord changes and inventive solos.
"For Emily," which Lomheim wrote for his wife, uses the waltz as a springboard for exploration. In doing so, Lomheim echoes the work of his greatest influence, the pianist Bill Evans.
Like Evans, Lomheim constructs his tunes from the bottom up, adding rich layers of harmony and imaginative yet shaped phrases as they develop. Johnson and Epstein have an equal voice in the music giving sparkling texture to the developing tunes.
On "To Feel or Not to Feel" Epstein uses the cymbals to punctuate Lomheim's sentences. The tune begins to soar as the pianist solos. Then, it levels into a bass interlude, with Johnson expertly walking the musicians down memory lane.
Lomheim has a nice touch on romantic ballads, particularly on "Into The Hills," a tune that showcases his lyrical expertise. His chord voices are both hopeful and longing. Like great vocalists, the three musicians use their instruments to deliver the blend of joy and pain that is inherent in expressions of romantic love.
As soothing as the pianist's ballads are, the recording is strongest when the musicians let loose and engage each other in lively conversation.
Each takes a turn in the spotlight, as they do on "Solidarity," which begins with a gentle opening phrase before giving way to vibrant solos that capture that all-important sense of swing.
Jazz has long been about rhythm and melody. Two decades after making his first big musical statement, Lomheim keeps both coming.
MPR News editor David Cazares often writes about jazz and Latin music.
Chris Lomheim 'Timeline' concert
Date: Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: Studio Z, 275 E. Fourth Street, Suite 200 St. Paul