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Tony Tixier

Life of Sensitive Creatures


by Ian Mann

February 21, 2018


Tixier shines on this album as both an acoustic pianist and a composer and it’s a record that proves to be immediately attractive but which offers a wealth of satisfying detail just below the surface.

Tony Tixier

“Life of Sensitive Creatures”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4716)

The French born pianist and composer Tony Tixier moved to New York City in 2012 before recently relocating to Los Angeles.

During his time in the US Tixier has collaborated with high profile jazz artists such as the saxophonist Seamus Blake and the trumpeters Christian Scott and Wallace Roney. Indeed I recall seeing Tixier play live twice when he was the keyboard player with the Christian Scott Band at both the Cheltenham and London jazz festivals back in 2016.

Tixier has also worked extensively with musicians from his native France, including his twin brother, the violinist Scott Tixier.

“Life of Sensitive Creatures” represents Tixier’s fifth album as a leader but is his first in the classic piano/bass/drums trio format since his 2006 début “Fall in Flowers”. Tixier has also recorded solo and in septet and quartet configurations, the latter featuring his colleague from the Scott Band, alto saxophonist Logan Richardson.

Tixier’s activities have brought him into the highly creative circle of musicians surrounding bassist, composer, bandleader and record label owner Michael Janisch, founder and proprietor of Whirlwind Recordings. The pianist’s début for the label features two of his close musical friends, bassist Karl McComas Reichl and the Canadian born drummer Tommy Crane. The latter is already familiar to me thanks to his excellent work as part of a trio led by the Israeli born, France based pianist and composer Yaron Herman.

“Life of Sensitive Creatures” places a greater emphasis on Tixier’s original writing than some of his earlier releases. Eight of the eleven pieces are Tixier originals while his imaginative interpretations of the three very different covers works well within the framework of the album as a whole.

As a pianist Tixier cites Art Tatum, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett and the Turkish musician Aydin Esen as significant influences. Classically trained from the age of six Tixier also singles out the composer Maurice Ravel as a source of inspiration.

In many respects “Life of Sensitive Creatures” is a highly personal album. The front cover features a photograph of the infant Tixier in his mother’s arms and the opening track, “I Remember The Time Of Plenty” expresses a nostalgia for childhood through a combination of gauzy melodies and ebullient upbeat grooves. Reichl and Crane are fully attuned to Tixier’s vision and their playing is full of busy detail and vibrant colour.

“Denial Of Love” is said to question the concept of global unity but happily Tixier and his colleagues are very much united on a bright, highly melodic piece that incorporates some sparkling extemporising from the leader and a highly dexterous double bass solo from Reichl. Crane adds crisp, colourful drum commentary and enjoys a feature of his own towards the end of a tune in which the music is far more uplifting than the underlying message.

“Tight Like This” updates an old Louis Armstrong tune that Tixier’s late grandmother was fond of singing – indeed the album as a whole is dedicated to her. Tixier, Reichl and Crane give the old chestnut a thoroughly modern makeover with Tixier’s darting runs utilising elements of Armstrong’s melody and combining them with contemporary harmonies and rhythms.

“Illusion” is Tixier’s meditation on “people and places that leave us”. It’s as much a celebration as a lament as tender and reflective passages alternate with more anthemic episodes propelled by an irresistible upward figure that makes the music sound almost E.S.T. - ish at times.
As usual the music is filled with colour, nuance and fine detail, with the leader’s alternately limpid and forceful piano sharing the spotlight with a Reichl bass solo as Crane adds a richly varied commentary from behind the kit, alternately colouring and driving the music.

“Home At Last” isn’t the Steely Dan song but instead an upbeat Tixier blues that celebrates the joy of returning home after an exhausting tour. The trio positively romp through the piece with Reichl delivering an exuberant bass solo that combines virtuosity with muscularity. Tixier’s solo contains some of his most joyous, straightforward playing while Crane is typically busy and colourful behind the kit.

The drummer adopts more of a hip hop inspired groove on the Tixier original “Calling Into Question”, an upbeat piece with a song like structure that elicits some finely tuned interplay from the trio and a rousing, celebratory piano solo from the composer.

The trio slow things down again with their interpretation of Jimmy Van Heusen’s jazz standard “Darn That Dream”. Performed as a ballad the piece features Tixier’s relaxed, lyrical piano playing while Crane provides subtle, sympathetic, neatly detailed drum commentary. There’s also a richly melodic bass solo from Reichl that highlights the gentler side of his playing.

As its title might suggest “Blind Jealousy Of A Paranoid” is an altogether different affair with its jagged piano runs and bustling, muscular odd meter rhythms. In this close knit, highly democratic trio Reichl’s bass again comes briefly to the fore while Crane’s restlessly creative drumming deploys an impressive variety of percussive sounds.

The last of the covers is the trio’s version of Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely”. Tixier’s inventive arrangement slows the tune down and re-harmonises it, leading to an almost bossa nova feel at times. Interestingly the press release suggests that Wonder himself likes to play John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” at sound checks. I do hope that’s true.

The penultimate piece, “Causeless Cowards”, ups the energy levels once more. The title of this, and that of one or two other pieces, suggests a possible political agenda behind Tixier’s music, but this is never stated explicitly. Complex, jagged and frequently changing direction this is one of the most forceful and energetic pieces on the album, embracing dynamic contrasts and tightly honed trio playing. Tixier stretches out above the taut grooves, there’s a brief cameo from Reichl at the bass and a dynamic drum feature from Crane towards the end of the piece.

The album ends on an optimistic note with “Flow” which features one of Tixier’s most memorable melodies and includes a suitably flowing solo from the composer supported by Reichl’s grounding bass and the busy ticking of Crane’s drums.

Tixier’s playing on “Life of Sensitive Creatures” is very different to his role as a multi keyboard player in the Christian Scott Band but this only serves to underline his skill and versatility. Indeed Tixier shines on this album as both an acoustic pianist and a composer and it’s a record that proves to be immediately attractive but which offers a wealth of satisfying detail just below the surface.

Reichl and Crane have much to do with this process and both musicians are hugely impressive throughout, both as individuals and as part of a tightly honed, well balanced trio. “Life of Sensitive Creatures” is one of those albums which reveals more with each subsequent listening – as is always the best way.

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