Steve Million: Truth Is
It was a blustery January night at the Jazz Showcase in Chicago when Jeff Newell's New Trad Octet took the stage, and it wasn't long before a thoroughly warming chorus of New Orleans-inflected horns began to soothe a restless audience still jittery from the cold. Amid the fading brass, the first few chords of Steve Million's piano emerged like sunlight through the clouds and effectively captured the moment. The room fell quiet. There were smiles and nods and all ears seemed tuned in as his brief but eloquent statement unfolded.
If this initial exposure to the artistry of Steve Million is in any way similar to your own, you will certainly not be disappointed by Truth Is. It's the latest offering from a Chicago area musician who, by virtue of this and two previous albums on New York's Palmetto label (Million to One and Thanks a Million), is beginning to make a solid name for himself nationwide.
What makes Million's playing so arresting has little to do with to any overt flamboyant style, technique or distinctive mannerism. Instead, this pianist seems to take an almost compositional approach, developing solos with a striking clarity of thought that is as emotionally satisfying as it is succinct. And though the piano takes the spotlight more prominently here than on his two previous efforts, it's his nine original tunes and sharp arrangements overall that really shape this album.
Million is joined once again by musicians he has come to know quite well, and has thoughtfully tailored the performances of trumpeter Randy Brecker, saxist Dick Oatts, bassist Michael Moore, drummer Ron Vincent and guitarist Steve Cardenas, to the spirit of each arrangement.
Moore and Vincent are both in perfect sync with their leader's work and never fail to lend inspired support. Guitarist Cardenas does not appear on every track this time out but his playing throughout is notable for its sleek, inviting solo lines—evident especially on the Jobim-like "Fireflies". And be sure not to miss the shimmering luster of his seamless ensemble work on the CD's title track.
With a sly off-mike chuckle and a musical quote, Million opens the session with a nod to Thelonious Monk. "Right Place, Wrong Key" is a mid-tempo blues with a pleasingly dissonant bop horn line worthy his mentor, featuring strong, straight ahead solos from Oatts, Brecker and Million.
The title cut, "Truth is", is a soulful ballad that seems surprisingly brief at first. Its sultry, bluesy theme teases for repeated listenings until the listener discovers that, truth is, it says what it needs to say quite brilliantly in just under three minutes. "Terror of Toni Town", written especially for his wife, also displays Million's affinity for the music of Cedar Walton and once again boasts engaging solos from Oatts, Brecker, and a piano solo that's so disarmingly direct it seems to sit right down and talk to you.
The three tunes not penned by Million also deserve mention here. Certainly, Jerome Kern would have been amazed at the countless interpretations of his "All the Things You Are" over the decades, and this time Million ups the ante by having it played in two keys, simultaneously. A satisfying rendition of Steve Swallow's "Eiderdown" is simply stated, with the unison horns of the theme giving way to some refreshingly ample solo space for piano and tenor. "Gallops Gallop" which closes out the album features Million's delightful solo piano interpretation of a seldom heard Thelonious Monk tune. Though all too brief, this two minutes and thirty seconds is almost reason enough to own this CD. But, truth is, there are plenty of others!—Dennis Sieja
Palmetto Records, 71 Washington Place #1A, New York, NY 10011. 1-800-PALM CDS. www.palmetto-records.com