By Owen McNally
Before settling down and committing himself to jazz, blues, classical, and Brazilian music, the rising, young West Coast pianist/composer Danny Green immersed himself for long periods of time in numerous genres, artists, and composers.
He fell in love with and romancing everything from ska and the grunge flights of Nirvana, to the musings of Mahler and epic grandeur of Wagner operas.
“All these different musical phases have helped shape who I am as a pianist and composer,” Green said modestly of his evolution into a rising force on the Southern California jazz scene.
His eloquent eclecticism — a gift that includes writing anything from celebratory blues to meditative reflections to composing for a string quartet — illuminates his sparkling new trio release, Altered Narratives.
As part of his coast-to-coast, ten-city tour to promote his disc on OA2 Records, the award-winning, San Diego-based pianist leads his tight-knit, hard-swinging trio on Saturday, April 2, at 8:00 pm at Middletown’s jazz-friendly Buttonwood Tree at 605 Main Street.
Green’s first love, he said, was grunge rock, which led to two years devoted to studying the music of the iconic grunge band, Nirvana.
Following his own bliss from his Nirvana experience, he fell hard for Jamaican ska, an affair yielding his first taste of torrid, freewheeling improvisation, a foreshadowing of the seductive allure of jazz freedom.
In what he describes as “something of an epiphany,” he saw “The Buena Vista Social Club” documentary, which sparked a yen for Cuban son, which led to his romance with Latin music and working in local salsa bands and writing in a Latin jazz idiom.
All these serial love affairs, plus his academic studies (he has both a bachelor’s and master’s), his individual sensibility and a variety of musical assets — including a bright touch and swinging, articulate phrasing — come together on the moods and grooves that dance through Altered Narratives, his fourth recording as a leader.
Right from the opening track, Chatter From All Sides, the crisp, interactive sound of the trio is center stage, a dramatic motif throughout.
The combination of Green’s keyboard craft, bassist Justin Grinnell’s booming tones and drummer Julien Cantelm’s continuously sizzling commentary make this band of three far more than the sum of its parts.
The collaboration soars to its brightest heights on Green’s “I Used to Hate the Blues,” a blues-drenched, vibrant studio piece. Its crackling, interactive energies might well make you anticipate an even higher sizzle rate in a live performance stoked by playing in a warm, empathetic venue like The Buttonwood.
Besides being a guru of grooves and blues, Green can also write pensive, dreamy ballads, as on his aptly named, deeply autumnal tune, “October Ballad.” As a maestro of morphing moods, he creates an evocative, eye-opener called “6 A.M.,” which awakens from a fading reverie, becoming suddenly caffeinated and, with all senses heightened, joyfully dances to a sexy Brazilian groove.
As a sign of Green’s love for European classical music — his favorite composers include Mahler, Ravel and Wagner — he’s written three pieces for his trio and a string quartet, the centerpiece being a dark, mystery-shrouded number called Katabasis. The title for this exotic piece, we learn, takes its name from a Greek literary term for visiting the underworld.
Green’s notes from the underground narrate a mini-odyssey unfolding from a mournful, minor blues feel to illuminating chords leading to the light at the end of the tunnel. Cellist Anja Wood, who has performed with artists ranging from Pearl Jam to Ray Charles, plays a lush, luminous solo, shedding light and the promise of resurrection from the Stygian, yet miraculously pleasant, murky depths.
Green and his trio-mates conduct a master class prior to the show from 6:30 to 7:30 pm. Tickets: concert, $12.00; master class and concert $22.00, general; $15.00, students, available at the door. Information: buttonwood.org and (860) 347-4957.
See review at wnpr.org