Rob Clearfield, Islands (ears & eyes records)
Pianist and composer Rob Clearfield is a member of Chicago’s under-30 jazz community, admired for work as a sideman with bassist Matt Ulery and pianist-singer Patricia Barber, among others. He debuts as a leader with a trio album due out June 3 that is peaceful, almost placid—except for the moments when Clearfield’s energy and unconventional harmonic content combine to create force fields that can take a listener by surprise. It happens in his first tune, “With and Without,” and often throughout the album. The soft sell of the promotional video clip featuring the title tune gives little indication of the album’s variety and moments of excitement.
Sometimes the excitement is in the layer of interplay between Curt Bley’s bass and Quin Kirchner’s drums, as in the piece named for one of Clearfield’s heroes, the guitarist Ralph Towner of the band Oregon. In other tracks, the surprise sneaks up on the listener. “The Antidote” is a calm solo piano piece until Bley and Kirchner inject it with a welling rhythm. In the title track, Clearfield (pictured) plays piano and electric organ simultaneously, driven by Kirchner’s insistent 4/4 beat of a stick on a snare drum. As the piece closes, Clearfield melds back into keyboard serenity that contrasts with the rhythm that yields ever so slightly. In a tune with the picaresque title “Pierce is Kind of a Weird Name for a Street,” the trio breaks up the time without losing the swing; a neat trick.
Here is Clearfield in his pre-leader days with bassist Matt Ulery’s band called Loom as they visited Washington, DC in 2013 and played a National Public Radio Tiny Desk Concert. The band is Ulery, bass; Clearfield, keyboards and accordion; Marquis Hill, trumpet; Geof Bradfield, bass clarinet; and Joe Dietemyer, drums. The compositions, both by Ulery, are “Coriander” and “My Favorite Stranger.”
Rob Clearfield, a Chicagoan worth keeping an ear on.