There’s a reason why those who think they can make it in jazz have to go to New York - because it is the center of the universe. While an artist may become famous and eke out a living in their own little hamlet, the greater community of artists and critics, and more importantly significant jazz record labels, will never recognize an artist as an important voice unless they rise to the top within the swirling caldron of phenomenal artists who everyday play their trade amongst the best of the best. The competition is fierce and only the best survive.
Welcome to the milieu pianist/composer/arranger Rachel Eckroth. Eckroth, a Phoenix native who studied at UNLV, came to the New York area in 2001 and recently finished her Master's degree in jazz performance at Rutgers University. Since moving to New York Rachel has held teaching positions at Lafayette College, Rutgers Community Music Program, and Mark Murphy Music, as well as performed off Broadway as musical director/pianist in David Cassidy's The Rat Pack is Back.
It’s her arrangements, however, that have brought her the most visible attention so far. Some of her big band pieces were recorded by the UNLV Jazz Ensemble on Coloring Outside the Lines, which received five stars in Down Beat and was voted one of the best CDs of the 90's.
Mind’s program of mostly self-penned originals in a variety of styles hearkens back to a composer/performer obviously influenced and firmly rooted in the tradition yet makes her own statement in a uniquely elegant manner. "Presence" is a well crafted tune. Splashes of Impressionistic harmonies are filtered by the bass and drums before the improvisation opens up into a vista that swings. A number of her short introductory melodic motives are elongated, turned inside out and finally come together in some hard driving music before she again rips them apart into their constituent harmonic elements which lead into Kevin Thomas’ tasteful bass solo. Throughout this piece, as well as the entire CD, the trio breathes in a manner usually heard only in trio music by masters like Cedar Walton and Kenny Barron.
"Petit De Jeuner" is a fine example of Eckroth’s ability to meld disparate musical influences into a new statement. Taking from Mozart, Scriabin, Prokofiev and a little from a melding of Ravel and Debussy, this short work begs for readings on classical collegiate recitals, yet maintains a jazz soul.
Still a developing artist, the influence of Chick Corea, from his Friends period, inhabits her compositional style, solo and arrangement on the tune "Flight." Add to that the subtle influence of Bach mixed with Ahmad Jamal on "Camping" and you have an artist with a uniquely evolving voice. Let’s hope time is good to Eckroth, as a performer her fingers and compositions deserve to be heard on more than self-produced and released CDs.
Dr. Thomas R. Erdmann is the author of two books, the editor of two others, and has had over 70 articles published in journals and magazines including, but not limited to, Saxophone Journal, International Trumpet Guild Journal, Journal of the Conductors Guild, Women of Note Quarterly, and Jazz Player. He directs the Symphony Orchestra and teaches at Elon University, NC.