Pianist Dan Karlsberg has been working within the Cincinnati Jazz scene for more than a decade now, living the working-musician life with gigs of every stripe in a variety of local venues. Besides his inscrutable performance chops, the in-demand player also flashes his abundant arrangement and composition skills from time to time on studio recordings by different bands he leads. His albums have long shown a mix of reverence for Jazz (and Classical music) tradition and form and a creative curiosity that helps him reveal new perspectives within them, all tied together with his finely-tuned improvisational instincts.
A University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music grad, Karlsberg’s first album as a leader, The Adventures of the Dan Karlsberg Group, came out in 2007, with Mission to Mars & Other Short Stories following three years later. In 2015, he took his discography to the next level with The ’Nati 6, on which he performed wide-ranging material with some of the area’s best veteran musicians. Now, Karlsberg has returned with another brilliant offering, Tales from the Winter Solstice.
The new album finds Karlsberg among his comfortable sphere of influences (like Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell, who gets an extra nod on Winter Solstice with “Chorale for Bud Powell”), but, as always, there are new wrinkles. Karlsberg says the music was composed and adapted specifically for the musicians he worked with on the album — JD Allen (sax) and Tom Buckley (drums). The instrumental lineup in itself was a bit of a self-imposed creative challenge.
“Having no bass player allowed for a different approach to the performance of a composition, where the piano serves mostly as the accompanying instrument and is the bedrock for both drums and saxophone to play around,” Karlsberg says.
The trio got together regularly to work out the songs, some of which were originally written exclusively for piano or other instruments, such as Winter Solstice’s opening cut, “Movement II for Two Violins” (listen below). The musicians’ instinctual interplay is a big part of what makes Winter Solstice such an absorbing listen, but understanding the way the work they put in to exploit the compositions’ versatility makes it all the more compelling, It's another flawless entry in Karlsberg's bulletproof catalog of dynamic studio recordings.
Karlsberg says Tales from the Winter Solstice — which features cover art by illustrator Vidhya Nagarajan, who has done work for The New York Times, Newsweek and Cincinnati Magazine — is the first of four seasonally-themed albums he is planning to do, with each one featured a different collection of musicians.
This Sunday (Oct. 7), Karlsberg, Allen and Buckley will perform an afternoon album release show at Caffè Vivace (975 E. McMillan, Walnut Hills, caffevivace.com). Admission for the 2:30 p.m. event is $5.