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Kerry Politzer 'In A Heartbeat' ( PJCE)

Kerry Politzer is a Portland-based jazz pianist, composer, and educator. She is on the music faculty of Portland State University and the University of Portland and teaches, through Jazz at Lincoln Centre’s Swing University. In New York, Politzer studied Brazilian music and performed original compositions at clubs including Smalls. She toured with DIVA No Man’s Band, playing with Diane Schuur, Slide Hampton, and Larry Coryell.

Politzer has released seven jazz CDs as a leader, including’ Blue In blue’ which featured saxophonist Donny McCaslin. She has been a featured sideman on albums of George Colligan, Laura Dreyer, and the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble and was featured on Sax and The City: Musical Contributions From New York’s Best Women Jazz Instrumentalists (Apria Records, 2004).

Politzer has won many awards including Regional Arts and Culture Council Focus grants to explore the music of Brazilian composer Durval Ferreira and the Music of Brazilian Piano Masters and her Driveway Jazz projects which is an outdoor venue for musicians during the summer. In 1996, Politzer was a finalist in the American Pianists Association’s 3rd Biennial Jazz Piano Competition. Her composition ‘Rhodes Rage’ won Third Prize in, Jazz Category in the 2005 International Songwriting Competition.

Politzer’s projects include Bossa PDX, a samba-jazz and bossa nova group for which she has transcribed dozens of classic arrangements from the original recordings. She has performed at venues including Jazz Forum Arts, the Black Dolphin, the Oregon Coast Jazz Party, Ellenburg’s Jazz in the Valley, and the Florence Wine & Jazz Festival, among others. She headlined the Montavilla Jazz Festival and performed with the Chuck Israels Jazz Orchestra and the 1905 Orchestra.

Politzer’s latest release is ‘In a Heartbeat’ (PJCE Records, 2022). The album features ten tracks of stylish, well-produced music. It features Politzer on piano, Garrett Baxter on bass, George Colligan on drums, Thomas Barber on trumpet, and Joe Manis on saxophone and flute. Of the music, Politzer told me, “I really wanted to emotionally connect with listeners during the isolating time of the pandemic”.

‘Bad News’ opens the album and introduces the listener to the band’s ensemble playing. Two minutes of mellifluous melody are developed with the trumpet soloing across the top lines and the track evolves into a multi-layered beauty of a track, with Barber’s trumpet flying over looping phrases. The breathtaking saxophone solo from Manis explores the theme even more, while the piano lines and solo are intricate, and acrobatic and further explore the melodic format. The holistic nature of the track, as played by this ensemble is well-developed.

‘Shaky Ground’ is a swinging journey through musical harmonic intervals and episodes, each with a variation on the rhythm pattern and melody. The trumpet solo is quite glorious, across a distinct bass line, which weaves in and around the piano and percussive rhythms and counteracts the trumpet and later the sax and piano with its walking gait. Colligan’s drum solo is stunning, and the ensemble work creates a fulsome, glorious track.

‘Spring Day’ paints a musical landscape of gentleness and calm, the instruments flowing and exploring the theme, with a change in tempo in the central third, before a piano and percussion dialogue to make your heart sing. The bass then gives a well-developed solo before the theme returns to close the track. The track encapsulates the heart-lifting sense of going out into nature.

‘Cycle’ opens with a gentle descent from the bass line, over which the piano and brass work off-set chords before a melodic interlude from the sax and trumpet, backed stoically by the piano and percussion. There is a lovely interaction between the sax and trumpets as they swap melody and accompaniment. This is five minutes of standout ensemble and solo work with the pervasive rhythm of the theme running through.

‘In a Heartbeat’ according to Politzer, “was a small-group adaptation of a large ensemble piece I was commissioned to write for the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble. It had a repeating piano that came to me in a dream.” It is a beautiful, atmospheric track with a dreamlike quality at the outset. The silky smooth saxophone and trumpet dialogue is countered deftly by the percussion and piano lines before the sax sings across the top in a majestic solo, countered by a raspy entrance of the trumpet, which develops into another glorious solo, into which the piano drops a clever, line before the bass emerges from the background with its solo. The track conjures musical landscapes which are explored and developed with the listener drawn willingly along.

‘Lullaby for Messiaen’ is a sultry, exotic piece with harmonies and tunes interlinked in an ever-evolving spiral of complexity as each musician adds their contribution, including a cyclonic saxophone solo and rhythm which is worked throughout. Messiaen himself might be enjoying this.

‘3 AM’ is darker, and dramatic and sees the ensemble create an atmosphere of danger, and anticipation, the drums adding depth to the sense of something lurking in the shadows. The trumpet line stalks the theme, taking the listener on a steady path but always the menace of the bass line follows. The sax sings into the atmosphere like a reassuring presence and drives onwards, the deep tremulous notes warning of hidden dangers in the dark perhaps before the piano offers tremulous support before developing a steadying chordal line, guiding the listener on. A gorgeous number with much going on.

‘Marble Maze’ switches rhythm and tempo in a Brazilian-influenced piece, with Manis now on flute leading the ensemble in a dance, while Colligan’s percussive rhythms define the groove of the track. The piano solo is uplifting, offering a freedom and sense of light while the bass positively dances across the plucked strings. Wonderful.

‘Umbrella Statement’ is swingy, and gloriously uplifting, with some great solo work from Manis and Colligan, over steady, repeated piano chords. Like the rain, the piano line keeps coming, while the activity continues under and over it from bass, sax, and drums.

The final track is ‘Goodbye’ which Politzer wrote for a beloved aunt who died during the pandemic. Melancholic solos from Barber and Baxter add to the poignancy of the mood and the track gradually opens up, like the spirit released from the earth and going on. The track is quite beautiful, and the sense of loss is countered by the fluidity and beauty of the music, giving a sense that even in loss, there is a sense of movement and continuation.

This album reveals emotions, experiences, and reflection but it also reveals the astonishing way in which musicians interact by listening and interweaving different sounds, bouncing off each other, and developing ideas. Thoroughly eclectic in style, completely wonderful in context, and an album that exposes raw emotion, yet that emotion is held and expressed in music that is quite beautiful.


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