Francesca Tanksley has held down the piano chair in the Billy Harper Quintet for 15 years. None of the exquisite playing glimpsed in that format prepares for the power unleashed on this breathtaking self-produced work. This is mesmerizing, captivating and monumental music. Joined by drummer Newman Taylor Baker and bassist Clarence Seay, mates from the Harper group, the pianist assays a far reaching and emotionally draining program that is as full of surprising changes as it is of breathtaking performance. A lush and powerful pianist who frequently reminds of McCoy Tyner, she is decidedly a musician who owes allegiance to none but her own muse. This is a brilliant, commanding and original artist. Her domination of the instrument is apparent from the opening notes of "Into the Light," a sprightly Latin-tinged composition for two very busy hands. "Trickster," on which Baker shines, is a quick-paced piece on which Tanksley dances with varying tempos. Even on the beautifully contemplative "Simple Heart" there is an obvious power in her approach, a wellspring of emotion from which she draws repeatedly and unendingly. "Journey Without Distance," on which the Tyner comparisons might best be drawn, not only shines light on her performing proficiency, but as notably on her compositional skills. Seay is heard to fine effect here, as well. "Prayer" features an amazing guest vocalist in Judy Bady, who has also worked with Harper in the past, as well as with Jon Hendricks. Her approach is somewhere between Abby Lincoln and Leon Thomas and just as powerful as either. On the closing "Never Defeated," the Tanksley trio delivers an elegant and mid-tempo number that again evinces shades of mid-70s Tyner while retaining an originality that sets it apart. Released in 2002, this is one of the most dynamic collections of piano jazz released in years.
Artist / Group Name:Francesca Tanksley
Genre:Straight-Ahead / Classic
Musicians:Francesca Tanksley (piano), Clarence Seay (bass), Newman Taylor Baker (drums).