Jazz Podium 9/2009 p. 81
John Esposito is one of the few pianists who, at the drop of a hat, can play a standard in the style of Willie “The Lion” Smith, Bud Powell, Chick Corea or Herbie Hancock. In English this attribute is called “versatile”, which is only partly rendered into German as “vielseitig” [many-sided] or “wendig” [flexible]. Born in 1953, John Esposito is in the bebop/hardbop tradition, but extends these in innovative ways. Trusted bebop harmonies are thus expanded with complex rhythmical schemes and metric modulations. In addition Esposito benefits from being able to move straight ahead, stylistically secure and without limits of tempo, in the immeasurable worlds between stride piano and free improvisation. One can even hear influences of Béla Bartók, Sergei Rachmaninov, and Arnold Schönberg, and of African playing styles and rhythms, even Esposito’s piano style is much less marked by influences than by confluences, by the meeting of divergent currents. His playing is purist, sometimes even minimalist, but still exudes great warmth, humor, and wisdom. Superfast staccato passages blend seamlessly into melodious, singing waves of melody. Standards like “Red Cross” by Charlie Parker, “How deep the ocean?” by Irving Berlin, or “Body and Soul” by Edward Heyman and Johnny Green, are not much more than inspirations for him, than outlines for re-inventions, re-harmonisations, “re-rhythmisations”.
Even in the title song on his first CD on his own SunJump label, “Down Blue Marlin Road” there are definitely still recognizable fragments from “On Green Dolphin Street”. “Coltrane’s love lights our way” and the almost half-hour journey “and his spirit ascended/Trane’s church” are references to John Coltrane. “Boppin” on “The Blue People” also points to these roots. To them Esposito joins fascinating melodies and rhythms completely his own. This joy in association and innovation also infects the members of his band, and this can clearly be heard in the pieces that rely on ensemble, on the call and response of the up to eight players. Here the best Blue Note traditions are observed, but also developed farther. Of the musicians special mention should be made of guitarist Sangeeta Michael Berardi, bassist Ira Coleman, and drummer Peter O’Brien. The recordings of the sextet Second Sight come from as far back as 1986 and thus invite comparison with Esposito’s newer recordings. Conclusion: John Esposito’s music has become more complex, more “composed” in the last twenty years, without losing tension. And perhaps it is even the missing link between Swing and Bop?