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Austin Peralta: “Capricornus”[audio:http://alarm-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/02-austin_peralta-capricornus.mp3|titles=Austin Peralta: “Capricornus”]
Austin Peralta is a 20-year-old jazz pianist. A former child prodigy, Peralta has already led two record releases abroad for Sony Japan. He recorded his first album, Maiden Voyage, at age 15 with a trio that included legendary bassist Ron Carter. And his sophomore effort, Mantra, was recorded mere months later with a quintet including Buster Williams. If that’s not enough to convince you of Peralta’s skill level, a stage shared with Chick Corea and Hank Jones at the 2007 Tokyo Jazz Festival will. Add in a number of prestigious awards and it’s clear that the young LA native has chops, to say the least.
For his third album, and first US release, Endless Planets, Peralta joined the Flying Lotus-run Brainfeeder label. It’s a progressive step forward in Brainfeeder’s legacy, one that seems natural, given Flying Lotus’ (a.k.a. Steven Ellison) great-nephew relation to jazz icon Alice Coltrane. It’s a label that’s home to artists who have been using jazz sounds and textures to create some of today’s most genre-forging music.
Endless Planets is a dense body of original work, self-produced with the help of Brainfeeder colleague Strangeloop, who injects the tracks with the electronic qualities that the imprint is known for. They are, however, kept to a minimum, and anyone expecting something overly electronic will be disappointed. Instead, Endless Planets fits into the experimental side of the Brainfeeder camp without using technology. It’s a jazz record to bridge the gap between generations, touching and building on foundations of hard bop and nu-jazz, all through a young and fresh perspective. And with a chilling down-tempo collaboration with The Cinematic Orchestra and vocalist Heidi Vogel to round out the record, Peralta proves that he can be in a league of his own.
The beauty of Endless Planets begins with song structure. Sticking to a familiar head-solo-head structure, solid foundations and swinging solos by Zane Musa (alto saxophone), Ben Wendel (tenor and soprano saxophone), Hamilton Price (bass), and Zach Harmon (drums) make this record successful. Though hyped virtuosos often fall victim to the overselling of skills on record, this is not the case for Peralta. It’s quite clear with Peralta that it’s not all technical. From his soft meanderings on opener “Introduction: Lotus Flower,” which give way to a lone saxophone, there is an intuitive understanding of the jazz outfit, which speaks to a stellar dynamic between all of the players.
“Capricornus” and “The Underwater Mountain Odyssey” are standout tracks. Both long and highly energetic, each track takes time in introducing each player to the record. In “Capricornus,” Peralta keeps a precise attack, while Musa and Wendel’s horns are energetic and focused, rich with tone and texture throughout. Harmon and Price create a raucous rhythm on both tracks — not because the horns and piano are sympathetic, but because the two play just as clear and complex as their counterparts.
Endless Planets captures a sense of freedom in seemingly cluttered worlds. Even for the slower “Ode To Love,” the session is loose and free, though all of the instruments seem to orbit around Peralta’s piano. The track moves from sax solo to piano solo in deliberate fashion, and Peralta suddenly emerges with a pure tone filled with grace and restless drive.
With a timeless sound that is sometimes reminiscent of McCoy Tyner, Peralta owns some of the most beautiful moments on the record. The epic 13-minute track “Algiers” has Peralta building a trance-like state; it’s a relentless stretch of piano riffing that sounds like it would be right at home on Herbie Hancock’s 1963 Inventions and Dimensions sessions. Wendel and Musa shine here again, injecting the track with African-influenced horn lines, channeling the energy of trumpeters Lee Morgan and Wayne Shorter.
In many ways, Endless Planets is a hopeful glimpse into the future, showing that younger generations are beginning to rethink the genre. For Brainfeeder, it’s a melding of aesthetics that makes perfect sense. And for the 20-year-old Peralta, it’s a rich and stunning first release of original material that leaves room for maturity and growth.