Django Bates’ Belovèd, The Study Of Touch (ECM)
Following his engrossing participation in Anouar Brahem’s Blue Maqams, pianist Bates returns to ECM with his trio in nine of his compositions, a Charlie Parker piece and one by British saxophonist Iain Ballamy. In the Blue Maquams review, I wrote, “For his soft touch and canny harmonies, Bates was a perfect choice.” His approach to the keyboard is the central attraction in this trio collection, as much for his gentle release of notes as for his soft initial keystrokes. That is not to suggest that there is anything resembling cocktail or background music in his approach to the instrument. This is an album that deserves—indeed, requires—attention. If aspects of pianists like John Lewis, Bill Evans and Tommy Flanagan come to mind, Bates’s touch is unlikely to be mistaken for theirs. The depth and substance of his chords buoy virtually every passage, including those in the trio’s brief romp through Bates’s reworking of Parker’s “Passport,” which has rhythmic quirks that may challenge the listener’s ability to recognize that the piece is a blues. Ballamy’s “This World” has lyricism with a quiet melodic and harmonic suggestion of “Danny Boy.” Bates fills it with flowing expression that blooms just short of outright pianistic display.
There is nothing in Bates’s work here that has quite the thrusting intensity of his interaction with Brahem’s oud in parts of Blue Maqams. Still, the subtle flow of energy among Bates and his longtime sidemen, bassist Petter Eidh and drummer Peter Brun, is a primary factor in the success of an album that seems likely to be a highlight of jazz releases in 2018.