Jan. 08, 2017Review of SkyDance

Review of Lou Rainone’s new CD “Sky Dance"

In full disclosure, I volunteered to pen this review because I have known Lou personally for a number of years, both from being his neighbor and as a musical colleague. I have had the pleasure of listening to and interacting with Lou on any number of occasions here in our Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. The qualities inherent in his music closely parallel his personality—warm, kind, funny, genuinely interested in the welfare of others, as well as being strong, determined, and resilient. My hope is that the opinions expressed herein will be no less valid to those interested in seeking out Lou’s music for the first time than a non-acquaintance’s would be.

In his third recording as a bandleader, Lou demonstrates not only his pianistic abilities, which are stellar, but also his skills as a potent composer and an astute leader of musicians. Taking on the triplicate responsibilities of bandleader, pianist, and composer requires multiple independent visions that have overlapping boundary points. Such an ambitious undertaking can also be fraught with risk. Other musicians might choose to employ the services of a producer who can steer the ship of a recording project from beginning to end, and ostensibly navigate any potential turbulence encountered with a dispassionate perspective.

Lou needed no such assistance, as the level of trust and interplay among the musicians is readily apparent on “Sky Dance." From the sounds of the album, all of the performers were of like mind and fully shared in Lou’s quest to realize his compositions in the best shared way possible. 

For those who rely on musical references to filter their previous sonic encounters and judge new ones, Lou’s music most definitely falls squarely within the much-debated term “jazz." His pianistic influences, as he himself unapologetically cites in the liner notes of the CD, include Cedar Walton, Hank Jones, Kenny Barron, and Barry Harris. To my ears, Lou’s musical “lineage" can be traced most directly to the aforementioned Walton, with a small sprinkling of McCoy Tyner’s powerful sensibilities thrown in for good measure.

However, it is Lou’s compositional prowess that ultimately takes center stage on “Sky Dance"—and this is precisely what makes Lou a singular musician. One of the main features of both jazz improvisation and composition is the possibility of highly individualized self-expression, and Lou seizes the day in that regard with flying colors.

As a fellow pianist, one of the many facets I have admired about Lou--both on this recording and live--is his innate ability to play improvised lines in highly fluid manner with startling evenness. If this sounds like an accomplishment that might be easily attainable—it’s not. Playing fully notated classical music may lend itself more easily to smooth execution because the musician, with enough practice, knows what phrases are coming next, and can therefore plan fingerings and hand movements accordingly. No such luxury is afforded to the improvising musician who must shape his or her lines “on the fly" in accordance to what is going on with the other musicians and the underlying harmonic structure of the music they are creating together in the moment. For my money, Lou is a master of creating incredibly logical, well-shaped musical lines that sometimes sound composed--yet are actually improvised. Lou’s deep knowledge of harmony, specifically “post-bop" era jazz harmony, serves him very well in his pursuit of an enterprising musical articulation. His rich chordal voicings demonstrate that he possesses a keen awareness of where the piece is at during any given moment, as well as anticipating where the harmony is headed—its targets and resolutions.

Other musicians present on the album include the formidable trumpeter Richie Vitale (who also happens to be a neighbor), Tom DiCarlo on bass, Taro Okamoto on drums, Larry Farrell on trombone (a prescient, welcome, and increasingly unusual instrumental addition to the overall texture of the album), and Lou’s wife, vocalist Dorian Devins on several songs—Dorian also added colorful and evocative lyrics to the tunes on which she appears.

Overall, this is a recording with roots deeply planted in fertile soil of the jazz tradition, and one that will give listeners many years of auditory pleasure. There is little to no instant gratification to be found on this CD—and for lovers of serious artistic expression, this should be welcome news. Although melodic in nature, the music on “Sky Dance" requires attention and even patience from the listener in order for all of its nooks and crannies to be fully revealed. The end result—skilled and experienced musicians working together to realize a group sound---is well worth the price of admission.

Harry Miller
January 2017

ps I decided not to do a traditional track by track analysis of each song because I feel this journey is much better accomplished by the individual listener. HM

Mar. 15, 2016CD Review

A Lyrical, Latin-Tinged New Quintet Album from Pianist Lou Rainone
by delarue
Pianist Lou Rainone keeps a busy schedule in the New York scene, playing regularly with the master of polytonal sax, George Braith and also with intriguingly enigmatic chanteuse Dorian Devins, among others. As a composer, he likes latin rhythms and mines a melodic postbop style; in the same vein as Brad Mehldau, he hangs out mostly in the piano’s midrange. Rainone’s latest album, Sky Dance is just out, and not yet up at the usual places online yet, although the clips up at cdbaby offer a hint of the unselfconsciously glimmering melodicism and postbop chops that characterize his work. Most of the tracks feature a quintet with trombonist Larry Farrell, trumpeter Richie Vitale, bassist Tom Dicarlo and drummer Taro Okamoto. Rainone leads this ensemble on November 29 at 9 PM at the Fat Cat.
The title track, with its shuffling, latin-tinged groove opens the album on a catchy, vintage Frank Foster-ish note; Dicarlo bubbles and percolates and the rest of the band follows in turn, spaciously. Rainone anchoring it with an artful staccato that alludes to a bustling milieu more than it actually depicts one. Little Dipper the first of the jazz waltzes here, creates a similarly lingering, distantly wistful atmosphere, everyone choosing their spots. Sweet Tooth, a trio piece with the rhythm section, brings back the shuffling latin inflections and adds wry wit, Dicarlo echoing the composer’s sardonic, Monk-ish figures.
The clave rhythm moves closer to centerstage in Aqua, Rainone’s majestic, ringing chords leading up to a carbonated Vitale solo, Farrell adding splashes of cool. A Late Arrival works slow, woundedly muted terrain, with hints of Asian tonalities and a rainswept gleam that slowly brightens; Rainone and the horns take it out on a lustrous note.
Devins’ vividly wintry vocals are a quiet knockout in Shifting, another jazz waltz, Dicarlo’s darkly dancing solo at the center. Cross Current brings back the bustling energy that opens the album; with Farrell’s purposeful solo, it’s the most straight-up swing tune here. Fly Away, a trio piece and the last of the jazz waltzes, is Rainone’s most expansive number. Devins takes the bandstand again on Time Is a Friend, her subtle gallows humor set to an irrepressible clave beat over Rainone’s judicious chords and Farrell’s similarly considered lines. The album ends with Rsvp, a lively, solo-centric swing shuffle and a synthesis of pretty much everything on this album. Rainone is a guy who should be vastly better known as a bandleader and this album should go a long way toward further establishing that.