I have been a fan of pianist Glenn Zaleski’s music ever since I heard his trio albums on the Sunnyside label. Piano trios provide a perfect vehicle to convey the nuances, colors, timbres, and textures of the acoustic piano, upright bass, and trap drums. I also noticed in those earlier recordings Zaleski’s talent for writing interesting new compositions as well as his understanding of classic repertoire.
Zaleski has just released a beautiful new album called The Question, this time in a quintet format. The title refers to the questions and uncertainties of a young man who turned 30 in the summer of 2019, on the verge of new fatherhood and responsibilities. Walks with his wife in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park and visits to The Vale of Cashmere last summer found Zaleski meditating on this transitional moment in his life and conceiving material for a quintet.
The Question is the musical result of this period of reflection. I love the writing as much as I like the performances of these deeply personal compositions. The opening title track conveys a mood of uncertainty while in closing “The Answer” provides succor, reassurance, and comfort. “Backstep” quotes Coltrane’s “Giant Steps,” while “Smoke and Mirrors” features a trumpet quote from Bronisław Kaper’s “On Green Dolphin Street,” made famous by Miles Davis in the 1958 sextet sessions. The song alludes to the fake news circulating on social media. One of two “re-imagined” covers on the album, the Dave Brubeck classic “Strange Meadow Lark” reflects Brubeck’s influence and inspiration that Zaleski absorbed while studying at the Brubeck Institute years ago. I also like the straight-ahead 4/4 piece called “Road Life.”
The Question is a thoughtful, beautifully-rendered album by Zaleski on piano, Lucas Pino on tenor saxophone, Adam O’Farrill on trumpet, Desmond White on bass, and Allan Mednard, drums. The lovely waltz “Subterfuge” (video below) also features the baritone sax of Andrew Gutauskas, Nick Finzer on trombone, guitarist Andrew Renfroe, and Alex LoRe on alto sax. The superb Israeli guitarist Yotam Silberstein appears on the Brazilian-influenced track “BK Bossa Nova.”
The Question’s cover photograph depicts Zaleski’s wife Tomoko looking ahead into the lush green landscape of The Vale of Cashmere, suggesting to me a hopeful view of their life’s path and the possibilities ahead. Zaleski recorded the album just three days before Tomoko gave birth to their son Allan, and it is dedicated to the two of them. Zaleski says of them, “I may not always be asking the right questions, but I know that you are always the answer.”