Pianist David Ake’s Bridges was one of the best jazz outings of 2013, featuring a gentle kaleidoscope of taut yet off-kilter compositions for a sextet consisting of his fellow California Institute of the Arts alumni and associates, including Ravi Coltrane, Ralph Alessi and Scott Colley. Lake Effect is equally satisfying but in a much different, more emotionally penetrating fashion. Since Bridges, Ake has moved back to his Midwestern roots, becoming the chair of the department of music at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. And last summer, he was jolted by the death of Charlie Haden, his musical mentor and the founder of the jazz program at CalArts. Both events affect the shape and purpose of the music here.
An extended quote by Haden about immersion in the music is set over a photograph of a winter lake—it’s the only liner note beyond the recording details. The first composition, the stark and beautifully somber “Lone Pine,” is Ake’s solo piano tribute to Haden. For the other nine tracks, the ensemble is pared down to a quartet, with the aforementioned three members absent and bassist Sam Minaie replacing Colley alongside holdovers Mark Ferber on drums and Peter Epstein on saxophones. They provide the right intimacy for the tone poem “Silver Thaw,” with Ake’s dappled notes given further nuance by soft chimes to mimic the dripping water. “Hills” is another evocative soundscape, distant in its wistfulness and nonchalance. Even the more ingenious, piquant compositions, similar to the writing on Bridges, such as “Tricycle” and “Two Stones,” have an engaging sentimentality. From the Lake Michigan of his Chicago boyhood to the Lake Tahoe of his previous teaching position in Reno, Nev., to the Lake Erie in his current neighborhood, Ake knows the varieties of terrain and seasonal patterns along the waterfront.