In 1997 pianist Greg Reitan faced a problem familiar to many musicians. Practicing and trio rehearsals in his Los Angeles apartment building were bothering the neighbors. In their search for more private quarters Reitan and his wifeMeredith Drake, a PhD in urban planningsaw a listing for an artists retreat. They investigated and found a house on a ridge in Highland Park, overlooking Pasadena. It was well away from the nearest neighbors.
The prototype Concept 2 modular home was designed and built in the 1960s by J. Lamont Langworthy, an architect who specialized in low-cost prefab houses occupying difficult sites. He covered the inside and outside walls with rough redwood plywood. Although the house contains less than a thousand square feet, sliding glass doors open to redwood decks on either end, giving it a feeling of spaciousness and light. A truss module down the middle stabilizes the building and provides added visual interest. “We fell in love,” Reitan told writer Diane Krieger of the alumni magazine at the University of Southern California, where he and his wife went to college in the 1990s.
When the Reitans moved in with their Steinway grand piano, they were thrilled to find a bonus; those rough-sawn redwood walls created warm acoustics with nominal vibration, properties ideal for a recording studio. So, in addition to practicing without fear of bothering anyone, Reitan began recording rehearsals with his longtime sidemen, bassist Jack Daro and drummer Dean Korba, fellow graduates of USC’s Thornton School of Music. That led to four albums, all released by Sunnyside. Post No Bills appeared in 2014, Daybreak in 2011, Antibes in 2010 and Some Other Time in 2009. “When we’re recording, it’s a fairly simple setup,” Reitan told Ms. Krieger, “We use the natural acoustics of the house. We don’t multitrack. There’s no mixing stage involved. The performance we record is it. It’s very real.”
As for Reitan’s style, here are excerpts from the Rifftides review of Antibes:
Reitan’s inner Bud Powell filters through Bill Evans and Denny Zeitlin. If there is direct Powell influence, it is more in his adaptation of harmonic concepts than in a reflection of Powell’s manic energy. His keyboard touch and chord voicings are firmly in the Evans school. He shares with Evans, Zeitlin and–consciously or unconsciously–with Keith Jarrett, the floating time feeling that comes from rhythmic placement relating chords to individual notes.
The tracks with Reitan’s own writing are the ones I keep going back to in Antibes. He told Orrin Keepnews, who wrote the admiring liner notes, that when he was preparing the album he had been listening to Glenn Gould play J.S. Bach. The title tune, the unaccompanied “September” and “Salinas” are direct reflections of that experience. Reitan so skillfully conceived them with Bachian rhythmic and harmonic principles and plays them with such precision and dynamic touch that one might almost be willing accept that Gould had come back as a jazz artist.
(All photos but Langworthy © Kelly Barrie)