Every once in a while, one gets a recording that just hits the right chord. You can listen to it a number of times, discovering something new on each hearing. The music may not be "original"(meaning one can hear all sorts of influences) but the emotion put into the creation of the program stands out loud and clear.
Such is the case with my experience with Dan La Maestra's debut recording as a leader. The Washington DC-based pianist/composer has worked in many different settings, most often accompanying vocalists. For his own CD, he has assembled a program of strong originals and smart interpretations of several standards.
La Maestra also has surrounded himself with an intuitive group of players. The rhythm section of Peter Revell and Dominic Smith is top-notch, never overplaying, always providing a strong cushion for the soloists. Revell has a rich tone, his low notes resonate while his melodic counterpoint never falters(his work on Alec Wilder's "While Wer'e Young" is a prime example.) The bassist takes the spotlight on his bluesy arrangement of Oscar Pettiford's "Laverne Walk". Performed by bass, drums, and piano, the track sits comfortably in the middle of the program. Smith is an active player, not loud, but always finding the right fill or providing the proper drive for the track. On "RUMI-nations", his splashing cymbals wash over the leader's Tyner-esque chords and fleeting single-note runs. The other lead voice on the bulk of the material is saxophonist Rob Holmes. His tenor work, especially on " A Colorful Tangent", reminds me of Michael Brecker. One can also hear a touch of Wayne Shorter in Holme's deliberate solos(never rushing ahead, always melodic).
The opening track, the disk's title song, is arranged for septet. The extra reeds give a smooth richness while Tom Palance's flugelhorn adds a mellow touch. The track is enlivened by Glenn Wilson's fiery baritone solo and Lamaestra's darting phrases. Guitarist Paul Pieper's "The Red and the Black" adds the driving tenor sax of Peter Fraize and the clean riffs of the composer. The song has a more contemporary feel than the other material, but is not out of place.
The trio pieces really shine. Victor Young's "Beautiful Love" combines a Bill-Evans like arrangement with a bluesy touch in La Maestra's solo work. "All the Way", the Frank Sinatra vehicle written by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van-Heusen written for move "The Joker's Wild", is a lovely ballad. After a ruminative reading of the melody, the pianist elaborates the theme with long flights of single notes and sweeping arpeggios. Nothing is rushed, nothing is out of place. "Billy Boy" closes the program and it's a flag-waver. La Maestra delivers the theme through it's chordal pattern and then takes off on a boppish flight of fancy( the track is dedicated to the Red Garland Trio).
Just a Thought is just good listening. The musicians sound comfortable with each other. Their familiarity translates into them making good musical choices and taking smart(if sometimes conservative) chances. If you enjoy straight-ahead sounds with a touch of blues and hard-bop based creative music, Dan La Maestra and One Step Up is definitely worth your time.
Richard B. Kamins - Cadence Magazine Vol.27 No.6 (Jun 21, 2001)
Although One Step Up is a local jazz Quartet led by pianist Dan La Maestra, one ensemble size doesn't fit all the music found on it's debut album. That's readily apparent on the opening and title track, "Just a Thought", a septet arrangement by core bandmember and reedman Rob Holmes. Colorful, vibrant, and swinging, the tune consistenly benefits from the harmonies and solos generated by the additional horns-baritone saxophonist Glenn Wilson, alto saxophonist Marty Nau, and fluegelhorn player Tom Palance.
La Maestra, a classically trained, argentine-born pianist, often displays a sensitive and graceful touch in more intimate settings. He and Holmes exhibit a close rapport on the quartet arrangement of "A Delicate Balance", as each sustains a distinct yet complementary melody, and "A Colorful Tangent" finds the pianist and reedman deftly spinning a series of impressionistic designs with the subtle support of bassist Peter Revell and drummer Dominic Smith.
La Maestra composed five of the cd's 11 tunes, and devoted nearly the entire balance to a series of attractive pop and jazz standards. None of the melodies is more appealing than Alec Wilder's "While We'reYoung", freshened by a spacious and shimmering trio reprise. And none is more infectious than "Laverne Walk", a splendid showcase for Revell's resounding tone and blues-tinged finesse.
The ringer is "The Red and the Black", a tune composed by guitarist Paul Pieper, which showcases his cool-toned lyricism and saxophonist's Peter Fraize's full-throated tenor sax. Like a lot of the performances on this album, it invites repeat plays.
Mike Joyce - The Washington post, Weekend section (Jan 28, 2000)