Debuting a quartet after a half-dozen years of expanding the piano trio concept, Jacky Terrasson sacrifices some cohesion as he moves his oddly structured compositions to the fore of his live show. A disjointed feeling permeated much of the music performed Tuesday before a sparse and indifferent crowd, one that sat on its hands waiting for a sample of virtuosity or remarkable phrasing that never came.
Terrasson’s fourth album as a leader, “What It Is” on Blue Note, finds the much-heralded French-American pianist tackling soulful numbers and works composed for an assortment of instrumentalists. With soprano saxophonist Sam Newsome (a fine bandleader in his own right) as his only frontline compatriot, Terrasson used him to weave themes that bounced between the complex and rudimentary; surprisingly, it lacked the glue of his earlier trio with bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Leon Parker.
The rhythm section now fills gaps in the new works without creating a bed over which Terrasson and Newsome can improvise. The results not only confuse, they leave the listener wondering what the performers’ intents were in the first place.
During “Monk’s Dream,” one of the last tunes played in the 80-minute set, Terrasson filled Monk’s spare theme with blustering chords as Newsome veered toward Dixieland in his soloing. And Terrasson’s deconstructionist phrasing, full of rapid cascades of notes, eventually put him on a reconnaissance mission attempting to salvage the intent of the composition.
It ended up a mess that was just outside the margin of error that only the best jazz musicians tread. His adventurousness deserves kudos — but this band’s execution needs work.