Rob Clearfield, Wherever You’re Starting From (Woolgathering Records)
The Chicago pianist’s low-key approach to solo piano might lead to wool-gathering that would justify the name of his label. But he bolsters the album’s harmonic depth and melodic originality by including Johannes Brahms’ B-flat-minor Intermezzo and John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.” Every other track on the recording, including Clearfield’s interpretation of the Coltrane piece, takes a harmonic back seat to his interpretation—even adoration—of Brahms’ glorious invention.
Still, as he eases into “Giant Steps” and ultimately brings it to flower, he takes full advantage of the famous chord progressions that since the early 1960s have had a profound effect on the course of jazz. He ends the piece on an inconclusive chord capped by a triplet fillip that might have made Coltrane smile. Clearfield’s opener, “Prologue” and closer, “Epilogue,” are shimmering sequences of notes that tumble to soft conclusions. Like his eight other original compositions, they emphasize his classical experience and leanings as a composer and player. His “Blues in C” spends a lot of time in the chromatic neighborhood of the key of B, makes effective use of repetition and keeps the listener guessing. It is one of several tracks that make the album (out this week) a quiet, compelling, listening experience.