Andy Wasserman

Genres: Jazz & Latin

  • Released: September 23, 2021
  • 7 track(s)

LINER NOTES - written by John Pietaro


Andy Wasserman, solo piano original compositions

The music of Andy Wasserman speaks to the ear in a most private manner. The effect, visceral in appeal to both our higher intellect and the child within, is driven by evocative modal sounds and—always—a bold shifting to the unexpected.

The pianist’s mastery of George Russell’s Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization carries its own shrouded pathway, and Wasserman, a long-term Russell student, is one of the few certified to teach this enigmatic Concept of Tonal Gravity.

But here’s something rarer still. Encompassing a Bill Evans brand of impressionism, Wasserman casts tonal colors within streams of cadences, runs, modulations and juxtapositions emerging around each corner. Mystical? Possibly. Spiritual? You’re getting warmer, but in any case, each stroke of his keyboard brings with it something welcoming, and something challenging.

A proponent of music in and as therapy, Andy’s realization of harmonic healing is reflective of the full human experience, bearing both its wonderment and outrage. Evidenced by his remote performances during the covid lockdown, Wasserman’s gift is in the capturing, for the rest of us, the very moment in which we live.

The seven works comprising this latest collection, Exuberance, speak of the album’s emotive title, but also of the common simplicity of joy itself, which in these exigent times, often remains ambiguous. On the opening number, “Jubilation”, Wasserman threads together the complex of emotions: the ardor, the laughter, and passion intricately woven to that which clouds, shades, and haunts. From the first notes, the listener experiences an intriguing mélange of impressionist and post-bop pianism conjuring perhaps George Auric, late-period Bud Powell, and the afore-mentioned Evans. A perfect glance into the rest of the album’s hidden corners and byways.

Skylarking” takes this mission further with handfuls of tones liberally dropped and tossed against the wandering melody which begs to be formatted for a vocalist wearing just enough reverb to fill the night sky. Rather than evoke the titular species resounding midflight in song, the piece recalls the whippoorwill’s singular cry, most welcome as darkest night touches what Cornell Woolrich once dubbed “the blue hour”. Wasserman’s skylark imagery, however, sketches the very soaring, the upward reach, in whichever form one travels. Or travails.

D’Light”, on the other hand, draws the listener into jazz’s own backstory. Here’s a piece which calls on the royal blue harmonies of a Count Basie or possibly, still further back, an after-hours Harlem jam session when the pianist was free to roam as the others washed down the hours by the bar. It’s last call, and Wasserman’s sapphire grace notes and gentle stride is at the heart, with the melody’s tremolo carried up through the sleeping city.

Euphoria” furthers this concept, but here amidst strains of Billy Strayhorn pulled into the modal vision. If the modes originated in the distant, ancient world, the grand irony is that only our most forward-looking musical artists have embarked on the modal path. These of course include George Russell as well as the members of Miles Davis’ greatest ensemble which featured John Coltrane and Bill Evans, vital progenitors of the genre, but they all did so within the contemporary language of the 1960s and ‘70s. To establish the emotion of euphoria, however, Wasserman colors his work with sounds reminiscent of an earlier day.

Yet, for “Blissed In”, the pianist guides the ear through another place and time, folkloric, possibly, but the piece makes this writer think of some very blissful moments up in Woodstock NY. Sweet mountain breezes caress with roving tonic chords and a series of major 7s, 9s and 11s aurally sprinkled. This is the music to call on after a burning deadline, when one need sit with a glass of bourbon or at least strong ginger ale over ice staring at a fireplace. And the sounds of quiet are almost overwhelming, but not quite.

Much of the Wasserman catalog conjoins for “Sprightliness”, modern jazz but surely subject to one or the other of the modes with senses of wander and wonder in equal proportions. Swinging, cool, joyously distant; here’s where the pianist hits the mark, digging into the structure with only the finest scalpel—ten!—carving magic of the sunshine.

This collection closes off with the title cut, yet “Exuberance” is anything but a shout to the heavens. Pensive, focused phrases fall over shifting, widely spaced dyads as well as blues-drenched runs. Appropriately, the piece displays its modal qualities in melody as well as its inferred harmony, Wasserman sounding all the more like he contains a traditional folk instrument within his core, belying the decades of performance, study, and especially exploration which he has reveled in.

In these sizzling post-modern, post-lockdown times, as lives attempt to move again at full strength and creatives share a year’s worth of artistry, finally, Andy Wasserman’s message to the rest of us is one focusing on the many shades of exuberance, the hidden prisms of black-and-white, and brilliant sky paintings of rainbow’s deliverance.

Here’s to reflection and joy.

(John Pietaro is a writer, poet, musician and cultural organizer from Brooklyn, NY)

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