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Pianist Roberta Piket Revisits Jazz Trio Format With The April 6 Release Of "West Coast Trio," Featuring Joe La Barbera & Darek Oleszkiewicz

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What the trio means to me is intimacy. There's such a directness of communication between the three musicians. It's all about interaction and not knowing what's going to come next. It's the essence of jazz.
Roberta Piket, one of the most virtuosic and versatile pianists on the current international jazz scene, revisits the iconic jazz piano trio format with the April 6 release of West Coast Trio on her label Thirteenth Note Records. Joining Piket is the consummate rhythm section of drummer Joe La Barbera and bassist Darek Oleszkiewicz—part of the vibrant West Coast jazz scene centered in metro-Los Angeles and whose presence inspired the album’s title. Guitarist Larry Koonse guests on two tracks.

In addition to debuting two new Piket originals (“Mentor,” “A Bridge to Nowhere”), West Coast Trio includes inspired interpretations of an eclectic set of songs ranging from standards like “Falling in Love with Love,” “Windmills of Your Mind,” and “My Buddy” to the samba “Flor de Lis” by Brazilian singer-songwriter Djavan, as well as works by fellow modern jazz pianist-composers Chick Corea (“Humpty Dumpty”), John Hicks (“Yemenja”), and George Shearing (“Conception”).

Serendipitously, West Coast Trio’s release comes almost 22 years to the day that Piket entered the studio to record her debut album as a leader—1996’s Unbroken Line (Criss Cross), primarily a quintet session, with Donny McCaslin, Javon Jackson, and Michael Formanek, among others—and embarked on a career path now in its third decade. Along the way the pianist, composer, arranger, and bandleader has explored with equal ease and equanimity a spectrum of stylistic settings ranging from the mainstream to the avant-garde, from acoustic to electric, from the solo recordings Solo (2012) and 2015’s Emanation (Solo: Volume 2) to 2016’s critically acclaimed One for Marian: A Tribute to Marian McPartland, a loving homage to one of her champions and mentors and, until now, the crown jewel of a multifaceted discography. A sextet project featuring Steve Wilson, Virginia Mayhew, Harvie S, Bill Mobley, and Billy Mintz, One for Marian celebrated McPartland’s underappreciated body of work as a composer while offering Piket meaty material as an arranger.

Piket’s first love and the format that inspired her early love for jazz was the piano trio, and she is at her most relaxed and commanding when she’s stretching out with a bassist and drummer—something she demonstrates with authority throughout West Coast Trio. “I definitely feel the most at ease in a trio,” Piket confides. “What the trio means to me is intimacy. There’s such a directness of communication between the three musicians. It’s all about interaction and not knowing what’s going to come next. It’s the essence of jazz.”

“The last few records I’ve done had more of an agenda with regard to the repertoire,” Piket reflects. “On the two solo records I was thinking of ways of challenging myself. I wanted to choose pieces that force me to stretch, not just a bunch of standards. West Coast Trio is the first record in a while where I chose several tunes that are simply fun to blow over. Our only agenda was to make some beautiful music.”

Born in Queens, New York in 1965, Roberta Piket inherited a passion for music from both of her parents. Her father was the Austrian composer Frederick Piket, who made significant contributions to both the musical liturgy of Reform Judaism and the concert hall. Her mother, Cynthia, introduced her to the treasures of the Great American Songbook, and she learned by ear the tunes of Porter, Gershwin, Kern, Rodgers, and Berlin.

Piket enrolled in the joint five-year double-degree program at Tufts University and New England Conservatory, graduating with a degree in computer science from the former and in jazz piano from the latter. After a year as a software engineer, she realized that her calling was music and returned to New York, where an NEA grant set her up to study with pianist Richie Beirach. Piket made her recording debut on an album by jazz legend Lionel Hampton and gained invaluable experience during the formative years of her career performing as a side-woman with David Liebman, Rufus Reid, Mickey Roker, Benny Golson, and Ted Curson.

She performs regularly with the Scott Reeves/Jay Brandford Tentet and the Virginia Mayhew Quartet, in duo with Mayhew, and with Mintz’s quintet/quartet with saxophonists Tony Malaby and John Gross, and bassist Hilliard Greene (with whom she also plays in his In & Out Ensemble) as well as focusing on solo piano performance.

Roberta Piket will perform with her trio—bassist Harvie S and drummer Billy Mintz—at Mezzrow, NYC, on Thursday 4/19. She’ll also be appearing at Maureen’s Jazz Cellar, Nyack, NY, on Saturday 4/21.

This story appears courtesy of Terri Hinte.
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