As a jazz pianist, Frank Stagnitta is nothing short of exemplary. The trio he headlines on All the Best may be as yet unheralded, but it's as tight as they come. Though not wavering from a strict diet of straight-ahead material, the album's worth is amply verified by the consistently engaging and masterful performances of the musicians.
Hank Mobley's "Stella-Wise" kicks off the set in radiant, up-tempo fashion, a mood that permeates the next two tracks (covers of "Pensavita" and the more obscure "Ariescene") as well. Stagnitta immediately establishes a full, warm tone that imparts the voluptuous sound of a larger band, his spirited, tasteful runs reminiscent of Vince Guaraldi. John Coltrane's lost classic "Central Park West" introduces the group in a more reflective setting before Stagnitta works in two of his originals, "The Legend of Joe Rip" and "Waiting." The latter, along with another little-known cover, "Just a Ballad for my Baby," are the best of All The Best. "Waiting" is a distinguished, meditative composition, shaded with emotional richness; for all the depth of feeling Stagnitta provides in his presentation of others' music on the album, it is particularly fulfilling to have this kind of personal statement included.
"Just a Ballad," nevertheless, may be his finest moment of all, or at least the most revealing showcase for his pianistic skills. While the melody is somewhat melancholy, one can't help but be uplifted by the consummate, requisite sensitivity with which it's played. Enough cannot be said of Mr. Stagnitta's abilities; he is equal parts immaculate technique and spiritual channel. He is not dazzling because he does not seek to dazzle; he does not ever overplay and his touch, timing, and choice of notes always seems just right. Moreover, the rhythm section of Matthew Vacanti and Josh DeKaney (Jimmy Johns plays drums on three of the nine tracks) plays right up to his standard. They turn in lively, satisfying solos on Dave Brubeck's "Theme From Mr. Broadway," which is found between the afore mentioned two songs. The album is then rounded out with a second Hank Mobley piece, "Hank's Tune," which captures the band in the same rollicking form that opened the proceedings.
After playing with many of the jazz elite and teaching extensively over the last four decades, the 57 year-old Stagnitta has finally endowed the world with his first recording as leader. All the Best is worth a listen from anyone with an appreciation for first-rate piano trios, or magnificently played music in general.