In September 2010 British pianist Nikki Iles went into the recording studio of Tony Bennett’s son, Dae, in New Jersey, accompanied by two New York musicians she had come to know but who had never played together before: double basist Rufus Reid and drummer Jeff Williams.
This album is the glorious result.
Nikki is a strong composer herself, but chooses just three of her own tunes here, preferring to interpret music by Kenny Wheeler, Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Ralph Towner and Julian Arguelles, as well as linking two jazz standards, Michel Legrand’s You Must Believe In Spring and Rodgers and Hart’s Spring Is Here.
Iles is as strong a writer as she is a pianist, and her tunes Meditations, Hush and The Incense Of Colour provide some of the most luminous highlights.
Rufus Reid has such a rich sound, you can almost hear all those club gigs, all those recording sessions in such esteemed company as Dexter Gordon, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Kenny Dorham, J J Johnson in the resonance and overtones on his low notes.
Jeff Williams, who also has an impressive CV and is an increasingly familiar player in this country, plays to his strengths here, putting the accent on subtle cymbal work and some expert use of brushes.
But while Reid and Williams bring depth and tons of experience to the session, it is Iles’ particular grace of tone, subtle touch and her very particular quiet rhythmic drive which make it really special.
Her own tune Meditations, as reflective as its title would suggest, and dedicated to her “great friend Mike Walker” deserves to become a jazz standard in its own right. It has that kind of quiet power with blues and gospel overtones that remind me of Tord Gustavsen’s finest melody writing.
Hush has some interesting timing and quite tricky phrasing, but the playing is so seemingly effortless and all three players so tightly in the same pocket that those complexities don’t have attention drawn to them, while The Incense Of Colour has all that smoky delicacy and exoticism both in harmonies and percussion sounds that make perfect sense of its title.
Elsewhere the gentle pairing of the two Spring tunes and this version of Miles’s Nardis are particular gems.
Nikki writes in the liner notes: “In recording this CD I found the kind of unforced interaction and intimacy that I love which allows for a continuous free flow of ideas.” You can certainly hear that special quality – a warm state of grace – translated from studio to your speakers.
A fine Basho Records release which should bring Nikki Iles the far wider recognition she so richly deserves.