by Zack Cross

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The Indiana Jacobs School of Music has long been known as one of the best classical music programs in the United States, if not the world. With the addition of some world-class faculty and a building tradition of producing some of the best up and coming students in the business, the IU jazz department is quickly building a reputation to rival that of its older, more established classical cousin. One of the jazz faculty members that has been busy recruiting and growing his studio is pianist Luke Gillespie. Under Gillespie's guidance the jazz piano studio has produced some of the best young talent in the country, including recent graduate and current Western Massachusetts resident Zack Cross.

Teaming up with bassist Andy Randazzo and drummer Luke Angle, Cross' debut album Up Under is a testament to the young pianist's stellar musical education and natural talent, a potent combination that flares up throughout the album's nine tracks. With a set list that consists of original compositions, by both Cross and Randazzo, mixed with two standards, Horace Silver's "Peace" and Benny Golson's "Stablemates," as well as a cover of Nirvana's "Heart Shaped Box," the album is not only a showcase for the group's improvisational chops, but for Cross' compositional voice as well. While most young jazz musicians will choose to record solely Standards, Cross' choice to include original material is a bold move that proves to be the right one as it brings a level of personality and uniqueness to the project that would be lacking if he choose to only feature Standard material instead of originals.

Cross' influences breathe through his improvisational lines, including his memorable solo on the Post-Bop classic "Stablemates." Here, the pianist channels inspiration from late period Bill Evans and current piano legend Brad Mehldau, mixing it in with his own personal touches to conjure up an improvisation that is familiar yet fresh at the same time. For a young player, this combination can often prove highly successful, as is the case here. By allowing his influences to come to the forefront at certain moments, then coming up with a totally new approach in others, Cross is showing the listener that he understands and respects the jazz tradition, while at the same time keeping his focus on moving the music forward and developing his own distinct voice in the genre.

Another reason that this album works so well is the trio's interaction on tunes such as "The Tenth," which begins with a bass-piano line that is cushioned by sparse, yet creative drum work by Angle. The Waltz feel that follows is audible when needed, and hidden when necessary, to provide the listener with a sense that the track is in 3/4 without beating them over the heads with the time. Kicking off with a bass solo that features some very melodic, rhythmic and emotionally driven lines by Randazzo, the tune then transitions into highly energetic piano solo that is perfectly complimented by Angle's drum work. Playing in a piano trio, especially for younger musicians, can be tricky, but these three talented jazzers pull it off, and it is moments like "The Tenth" that bring to light their musical maturity in a way that is both entertaining and intellectually engaging.

Cross and company are on top of their games both compositionally and improvisationally on Up Under. Playing with a maturity that goes beyond their years, this trio brings a commitment to saying something with their music to the album and delivers on that promise. This isn't just a head-blowing-head jam session, the tunes are well-written, creatively arranged and performed at the highest level, leaving the listener with the impression that these three musicians have long and successful careers ahead of them.

Review by Matthew Warnock
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)


released January 15, 2011

Zack Cross - piano
Luke Angle - drums
Andrew Randazzo - bass

Visit zackcrosspiano.wordpress.com for more info and updates!




Zack Cross Great Barrington, Massachusetts

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