Traveller’s Tales, released on 15 June is the debut release from the trio of 25-year-old pianist Alan Benzie, first winner of the BBC Scottish Young Jazz Musician back in 2007, subsequently a Berklee College of Music student and recipient of a Billboard award.
A highly reflective acoustic collection, the virtuoso pianist joined by double bassist Andrew Robb and by drummer Marton Juhasz on this Castlesound, Pencaitland-recorded studio album, Benzie explains in a brief liner note: “I like to think of the longer tunes as resembling diary entries, quite narrative in style,” he says. “The shorter ones are perhaps more like images, just a glimpse of a moment in time.”
The pianist’s album titles are mostly naturalistic: full of dawns, mists and shores matched by the gentle painterly wash of the sky and the sea in the cover art. Benzie’s imagistic style recalls John Taylor’s a little, perhaps Bobo Stenson or in certain parts inescapably, Bill Evans, and there’s a romantic tug to the best part of his melodies and a drama too as the solo unwinds say on ‘From A to B’. The bass and drums keep a discreet presence initially although bassist Robb takes up more of the initiative on the dynamic ‘Frog Town on the Hill’ (above) a dialogue between bass and piano injecting extra energy to the politely respectful atmosphere that marks the early part of the album and where the trio show just what they can do.
Benzie’s rhapsodic side is given space at the beginning of ‘Old Haunts’ Juhasz moving into a Paul Motian-like space Bill Evans trio fans will recognise and by the climax of the piece there is so much personality peeking through. I particularly liked the pensive brooding quality of ‘A Wandering Mist’ that is then developed extensively and shows layers of intricacy in trio interplay that move the album to a higher more involving level. Perhaps the album suffers a little bit from over-introspection particularly on the earlier tracks but the Benzie compositions are strong and his mastery of the piano impressive, the homespun ‘Midnight Cafe’ finding the trio at their most relaxed. Robb’s earthy bass lines amid the dart and dash of ‘Stony Shore’ again light up the album beyond simply a showcase for piano but turn it more into a trio exploration that enhance its overall appeal. SG
Traveller's Tales (***) is released on Alan Benzie’s own label. Details: alanbenzie.com. The Alan Benzie trio, above