New York State native and pianist John Esposito attended SUNY Albany as a composition major before spending several years there as the house pianist at the Gemini Jazz cafe. There he worked with J.R. Monterose and Nick Brignola in addition to leading his own jazz group before moving to New York City in 1980. Among the artists he’s worked with there include Pharoah Sanders, Dave Holland, Roswell Rudd, Dave Douglas, Franklin Kiermyer and Eric Person, among others. Today Esposito is on the faculty of Bard College where he teaches ensembles, jazz theory, repertory, and advanced composition techniques classes.
Recorded in 2003 and released in 2006 on Esposito’s own SunJump record label, Down Blue Marlin Road
is a collection of reharmonized and rearranged jazz standards along with three original compositions, all done in the standard jazz piano trio format. Accompanied by bassist Ira Coleman and drummer Peter O’Brien, the trio plays with drive and energy on the up-tempo numbers and taste and style on the ballads.
One of the highlights is "Soul," a reworking of the Heyman and Green standard "Body And Soul." O’Brien’s deft brush work with double time punctuations, along with Coleman’s great bass statements which are interjected into melodic gaps, make this one of the better recordings of this piece ever set to disc. They don’t just go through the motions, they work to make the piece a singular ensemble statement.
Esposito’s reworking of some of the pieces results in the creation of some interesting sounds. "Autumn," a backwards rendition of "Autumn Leaves," is especially interesting. It is beyond doubt a totally different piece, and works extremely well. Esposito’s understanding of harmonic language is complete and aids in the recastings. While the liner notes state Esposito doesn’t respect all standards equally, mostly because he’s "sick and tired of being asked to play them," you wouldn’t know it from his trio’s renditions of the each tune’s extrapolations.
O’Brien shines on the reworking of "I’ll Remember April," here entitled "April." He shifts back and forth between three and four with such a smooth yet determined precision most would never know he’s doing it. Esposito is no slouch in the technique department either. His sure fingers and excellent touch, in addition to lightening quick abilities when needed and called for, as in "Red," help to make this disc better than standard fare.
Overall this is a good recording that features, as its main point, extended harmonic reharmonizations and novel approaches to the usual standard fare. The end result is an interesting approach to the pieces all jazz musicians grow up learning, and for that alone this disc is highly recommended to students of the art.