Jazz Piano at UArts is a showcase for five exceptionally talented piano students from the renowned Philadelphia music school. With the exception of one freely improvised piece, the material is a familiar rendering of standards and modern jazz classics. It is the unique approach of each pianist towards well worn material, however, that elevates this compilation to more than just a sampling of student performances. These five young men play with determination and inventiveness.
John Icaro ("Footprints" and "La Fiesta") implores a playful sense of lyricism, stretching out phrases with a free-wheeling suppleness. Neil Shah turns in a frenetic solo rendition of the Thelonius Monk classic "Well You Needn’t." The arrangement is a blistering workout for both hands. A more traditional approach can be heard in Mike Frank’s swinging versions of "There is No Greater Love" and "Bewitched." Frank, along with drummer Joe Nero and bassist Craig Thomas, revives the spirit of Gene Harris and The Three Sounds. Jason Brown patiently explores the entire realm of the piano, inside and out, on his own "Free #2" and weaves effortlessly through Chick Corea’s demanding "Spain." Matt Hochmiller’s lovely bossa nova treatment of "Someone to Watch over Me" is charmingly subdued. His laid-back approach shows evidence of an unhurried maturity, rare among young pianists.
Jazz Piano at UArts serves as reassurance that the future of piano jazz is in good hands. Icaro, Shah, Frank, Brown and Hochmiller have a firm grasp on tradition and are not afraid to take chances and stretch the limits of their creativity. An enjoyable snapshot of fast-rising talent.