Go to pianist David Kikoski’s discography page, and as you would expect there are plenty of albums where he’s the bandleader. Scroll down to his sideman projects and you’ll find that the very first album listed is the Mingus Big Band’s sizzling Live at the Jazz Standard album from 2010. Big surprise: Kikoski is a big reason why that album is one of the most exhilarating of the past dozen years. He’s lyrical, he has an edge and he gets a ton of gigs, which is why he doesn’t often get a chance to lead his own projects here. He’s doing that this June 11 with a trio at 10:30 PM at Mezzrow. Cover is $25 cash at the door; he’s back in that intimate space on June 25.
Kikoski is also very versatile. One new album that gives him a chance to go in a direction he hasn’t gone in much lately is Israeli guitarist Yuval Amihai‘s My 90s Summer, streaming at Soundcloud. Kikoski plays Rhodes electric piano on this one, which in general is closer to soul and downtempo music than it is jazz.
Amihai opens with the title track, a swaying, summery soul theme with a balmy horn chart: Julieta Eugenio on tenor sax, Wayne Tucker and Itai Kriss on flute giving way to carefree solos by Amihai and Kikorski and a big cheery crescendo. It sets the stage for much of the rest of the record.
The band prowl like a lynx, sleek on its feet but lethal in MEDB (Middle Eastern Desert Blues), with deliciously simmering harmonies from the bandleader and Kikoski’s Rhodes. It doesn’t sound the least bit Malian and it doesn’t sound particularly Middle Eastern either. as Kikoski winds his way through a twinkling, nocturnal solo.
Gwen’s Groove is a vampy trip-hop launching pad for bright, matter-of-fact solos from guitar and Rhodes. The band reach for a balmy, summery lullaby soul sound in Song For Sasha. They follow that with the aptly titled Smiles, Kikoski switching to acoustic piano for a typically glistening, rather impetuous interlude over the tiptoeing syncopation of bassist Eric Wheeler and drummer Jeremy Dutton. It’s the best and most traditional jazz number on the record.
Amihai revisits the furtive nocturnal slink of the album’s second number, if less ominously, in Yitgaber. The album’s big epic is Coming Through, which sounds like a late 70s/early 80s Steely Dan song without words, Kikoski back on piano for an emphatically strolling, blues-infused solo. Amihai gives the record a warmly swaying coda with Saturday Afternoon.
Most of this is not heavy music, but Amihai really knows how to create a mood and keep it going. Clearly, the 90s were a happy time for him. How little those of us who were there knew how much we would eventually miss those days.