We all know that the word “serendipity” (which happens to be the title of the first track of the new album from the Alicia Pyle Quartet) refers to a pleasant surprise, a fortunate turn of events that comes about by chance. While it’s true that the album is pleasant and, thanks to its unusual instrumentation, a surprise, its appeal comes about not through chance or coincidence, but via some fine musicianship.
First, the basics: the quartet plays energetic jazz with a Latin slant; they keep the tempo sprightly and run through rhythms that include sambas and tangos and other exotic gaits. The innovations begin with the lineup; the quartet includes Pyle on piano, Derek Reeves on violin, Brad Kuhns on bass and Jose Morales on drums, and they get help from guests on other strings and percussion. The twists begin with Reeves’ violin, but it’s the interplay between Reeves and Pyle that really keeps things clicking.
Pyle’s classical piano provides surprises, too, as she leads us down paths we might not have expected to take. She handles Beethoven and Rachmaninoff with confidence, but she calls on Reeves and the rest of the quartet to help her take the composers’ pieces somewhere new. “Fur Elise,” for example, begins by the book, but it takes a turn when she hands the melody off to Reeves. The result somehow manages to seamlessly fuse the classical staple with spice from Latin America and, through the moan of the violin, Eastern Europe.
The album’s bonus track, a cover of Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” is something of an anticlimax. After the virtuosity of the rest of the album, the song’s simplicity seems unworthy. Fortunately, though, there’s more than enough fire on the rest of the album to make up for it. (Evan Gillespie)