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Keezer takes Sprague in different direction

Reviewed February 2011

Mill Creek Road
Mill Creek Road
By the Geoffrey Keezer / Peter Sprague Band

SBE Records: 2011

To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.

That San Diego's Geoffrey Keezer and Encinitas' Peter Sprague are world-class jazz artists can be verified in that both are regulars in singer Dianne Reeves' touring band. That the two locals have now recorded together, despite their shared work behind Reeves, is still somewhat of a surprise given the rather divergent approaches they've taken in their own solo projects.

Keezer's previous recordings have revealed him as a modernist – all about the idea. Whether spare and lonesome, or fiery and coming at you from a hundred different directions, Keezer's approach on piano is inherently complex, and often complicated to boot.

While Sprague began as an out-there modal player, over the past few decades he's revealed himself as a romantic at heart; the melody is everything. Now, he can turn that melody eight ways from Sunday on his guitar before he's done with a solo – but whatever he's playing has a gorgeous theme at its core.

Perhaps it was Keezer's 2008 Latin jazz outing, "Aurea," that got them talking about a recording project together; given Sprague's rich history of exploring Brazilian influences, it's not hard to imagine them talking Latin jazz whenever their paths cross.

If that was the impetus, though, it was an odd one considering that "Mill Creek Road" is almost all straight-ahead jazz, with little in the way of Latin strains. We do get one return to Sprague's earliest days with "India Zach" a foray into John McLaughlin-inspired Indian raga with Zach Harmon on tabla.

Throughout the eight songs (Keezer and Sprague wrote four each), the two men come at the music in model of a 1960s session – with Keezer sounding more than a bit like a young Monty Alexander, down to the two-hand attack on piano, and Sprague coming off as a bit of a harder-edged Wes Montgomery. There's also the semi-competitive nature of the playing common to jazz records from the late '50s through '60s, in which they chase and push each other on their solos. (That the liner notes from the two men make reference to both Montgomery and legendary drummer Art Blakey tells you that their heads weren't too far from some of those classic 1960s small-combo jazz recordings while working on this project.)

Bassist Hamilton Price and drummer Duncan Moore fill out the quartet, and provide the perfect foundation: Rock-solid beat, virtuosic fills when needed.

None of the compositions here is particularly memorable, but the playing is stellar throughout, often inspired – and, as with Bob Magnusson's recent release, presents Sprague out of his comfort zone, off exploring new musical territory – an always-rewarding experience for the listener given how beautifully Sprague can play in any style, particularly when accompanied by a talent like Keezer's.

Review by Jim Trageser. Jim is a writer and editor living in Escondido, Calif., and was a contributor to the "Grove Press Guide to Blues on CD" (1993) and "The Routledge Encyclopedia of the Blues" (2005).

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