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The Farthest Reach

Paul Keeling: The Farthest Reach

By Robert Bush | Posted February 2, 2012

Vancouver pianist Paul Keeling grew up in San Diego, where his musical upbringing was reflective of the Del Mar jazz scene, classical music and choral studies, and, an important exposure to the music of Pat Metheny in the '80s.

He began a four year association with trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos in the '90s, leading him to an appreciation of the classic post-bop music of the '60s Blue Note era.

All of these disparate elements are woven into the personal narrative Keeling offers up on The Farthest Reach, a sublime collection of original and classic jazz material in trio and quintet expressions.

"Alpenglow," opens the disc, and sounds equally influenced by classical music and the kind of piano trios that have recorded material for the influential German label ECM over the last forty years. Keeling displays a Lyle Mayes-esque sense of motion and flow, and bassist Sean Cronin plays with a huge, woody sound, reminding me a lot of Buster Williams. Morgan Childs rattles around effectively at the edges of his drums before turning in a short, inventive, cymbal-centric solo.

"The Bitteroot," begins with the strumming bass of Cronin, while Keeling drops perfectly spaced chords to outline the theme. At about the 2 minute mark, trumpeter Chris Davis and tenor saxophonist Steve Kaldestad enter with the neatly harmonized melody, which Keeling loosely elaborates with sparkling tones.

"Bright Size Life," is taken at a slightly brisker pace than Pat Metheny's original, debut effort, but the execution reflects Keeling's long-time admiration for the work of the guitarist. The pianist effortlessly navigates between the piece's two contrasting motifs, with Cronin and Childs in perfectly choreographed lockstep. The bassist squeezes in a beautiful solo that balances his keen sense of space with streams of multi-note ideas.

Kenny Dorham's "Escapade," follows, and it sounds completely modern in Keeling's arrangement as it glides between a probing ostinato and a joyous swing time. Keeling chooses his notes carefully, reflecting both a Wynton Kelly and a Bill Evans sensibility.

The title track begins dreamy and rhapsodic, with gorgeous melodic pacing. There are some harmonies that will bring Keith Jarrett to mind. When the bass and drums enter, the piece shifts into a "straight-eights" feel, and once the horns layer in, a new scene emerges. Kaldestad adds a fluid and winding solo, yielding to Keeling's ecstatic turn over the singing whole-notes of Cronin and the churning rhythms of Childs.

"King Of Clubs," is an unabashed swinger in the tradition of Freddie Hubbard or Lee Morgan. Over the furious time of Childs and Cronin, Keeling lets strands of chord-tone melodic invention fly. Davis solos with the Harmon mute, ornamenting the harmony nicely while Kaldestad rips off an intense essay that slices through the changes. Childs gets a short turn, accents ricocheting across the stereo curtain before everyone returns to a wild finish.

The driving pulse of Mauna Loa," reminds me of some of Woody Shaw's excellent output from his halcyon days. Davis bursts out of the gates first with a tart exposition filled with joyful note squeezing and long, intricate lines, in probably his best solo of the date.

There's a delicious sense of balance on this disc between the traditional and the modern, as well as between the trio and quintet segments which favor the trio — but only slightly. Keeling and his compatriots have fashioned a document that deserves repeated listening... and rewards it.

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