Powerful pianists can often be impressive, but I’m more impressed if a pianist never has to mash the pedal to capture my ears. Toronto’s Matt Newton is one of those pianists who thrive on the subtleties offered by the instrument, and does so to enrich the music, not to show off.
That’s what is in store for listeners of his second album Within Reach, due out February 21, an unpretentiously satisfying, mostly trio date. Over seven Newton originals, with an eighth by his bassist Dan Fortin, he, Fortin and drummer Ethan Ardelli execute these searching strains without many sharp corners and strive for harmonic grace in each song.
The delicacy, even when the music is moving at a quick swing pulse, shapes performances like “Within Reach,” where Ardelli’s cymbal modulations go beyond mere timekeeping and help to form a harmonic component of the overall sound. In the meantime Newton lets the melody come to him, because he’ll never force it. The strong bond between the three is best demonstrated on tunes like “Crossway” and “Stepping Into The Light,” the former energetic and the latter soulful. Ardelli applies accents to his beats in sync with Newton’s chords on “Short Flight” and works telepathically again with Newton on “Ends,” where the composer Fortin turns in a poetic bass solo.
For just a couple of tracks, Newton shows not just an appreciation for contemporary styles of jazz, but an ability to demonstrate it convincingly. “Our Own World” stands alone in this collection: with Newton moving over to Rhodes, the rock guitar of Harley Card and the wordless voice of Felicity Williams added, this is a side excursion into post-rock territory. But Newton’s jazz sense of harmony remains. The airy, ever-so-slight whiff of electronica that defined e.s.t.’s brand of minimal jazz informs “The Ship,” and Newton’s places his sparse piano right alongside the bass and drums instead of up front of them.
Newton ends it with a solo piano performance of his composition “Claire-ity,” a fragile ballad where there’s not much improv, just appropriately setting a lonely mood. That, come to think of it, is the charm of the entirety of Within Reach; Matt Newton knows how to use well-conceived harmonies to evoke complex moods that make a lasting impression.
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