Nothing Uncertain About Patrick Cornelius’ Maybe Steps
The big deal about this album is that Gerald Clayton’s on it. Getting one of the most innovative pianists in jazz right now confers instant cred on alto saxophonist Patrick Cornelius’ latest effort, Maybe Steps. And it doesn’t disappoint – as melodic jazz goes, it’s a consistently surprising, often understatedly intense ride. There’s a lot of depth here, diverse and sometimes divergent ideas and emotional tones within a single piece along with the occasional offhand classic riff reference. What makes this such a hard album to shut off is that the band never hits anything exactly head-on: they keep you waiting and keep you guessing. Cornelius plays with a misty, opaque tone alongside Clayton with Peter Slavov on bass and Kendrick Scott on drums, with Miles Okazaki on guitar and Assen Doykin on piano on one track.
The opening track is a triplet tune with subtle modal shifts, rises and falls. As he does later on here, a lot, Cornelius goes bright against a somewhat tense background but then follows Clayton into moodier and then memorably choppier territory. The title track – a Trane pun – swings til it hits an eerie bump in the road that Clayton pulls out of with bluesy allusions. But when Cornelius hits it, he lets the darkness settle for awhile before bringing the lights up again. Bella’s Dreaming, a brief nocturne, is a clever remake of One for My Baby. Brother Gabriel, with its attractive, syncopated pulse, serves as a showcase for a suspensefully spacious solo from Clayton, working his way out of the murk only to hint that he’d like to go back there.
They pick up the pace with the briskly catchy, biting Shiver Song, Cornelius deadpan and blithe over the melody’s edgy acidity, Clayton spiraling nimbly after him. Into the Stars, a ballad, contrasts a blippy Okazaki excursion with boomy, tensely tiptoeing bass. The strongest songs out of the whole bunch are the casually bittersweet A Day Like No Other and the Jackie McLean-ish Echoes of Summer, Cornelius keeping his triumphant solo casual and close to the vest. The album winds up with a purist, glimmering piano-sax version of Kurt Weill’s My Ship, an almost frantically swinging cover of George Shearing’s Conception and the potent concluding cut, a brooding tango, Cornelius evading resolution (and that pink slip, DFA notice or wave of the girl’s hand) at every turn. Count this as one of the most consistently interesting and tuneful jazz releases of 2011, out now on Posi-Tone. Cornelius is at the Bar Next Door in a trio with Linda Oh and Paul Wiltgen on Oct 6 and then at the Jazz Gallery on Nov 16 at 9 with this band playing the cd release show.