Coming Down Roses is Billy Test’s debut as bandleader. In this trio format, Billy sits the piano while Evan Gregor is on bass and Ian Froman is on drums. The album of nine tracks contains seven of Billy's original compositions.
The two covers are All of You by Cole Porter and the Prince by John Coates Jr. It is the Cole Porter lesser-known standard that leads off the album. Right off the bat, the trio shows a remarkable understanding of each other and sets the stage for even better things to come. Billy's arrangement breathes new life into the old Porter tune And Billy's piano work is skilled and fresh.
The other cover, the Prince, is John Coates Jr’s tribute to Boston Red Sox pitching great Luis Tiant. Gregoire opens the piece with a fine base introduction. Billy takes over on piano developing a sweet melody that is in harmony with the character of Tiant but in stark counterpoint to the pictures fiery intensity.
Billy's first composition on the album is Spinning, a mellower side to the trio’s playing. The synchronous playing of piano and bass over the cool brush work of Froman is excellent. The gentle piano melody is developed independently of the bass—which gets a fine solo—and the results are warm and welcoming.
Fate follows after with its almost resigned texture and pacing. The lyrical development is practically a narrative of finding oneself in a new home and environment, especially in such difficult times. The explorative departures are intriguing and original.
Hardly is a distillation of Sigmund Romberg’s Softly As in a Morning Sunrise. The stripping down of the original is fascinating and imaginative. Froman’s snare intro is a fast-paced setting for the piece, joined by Billy’s piano. It is several measures before the bass adds its throaty voice. Froman delivers a knock-out drum solo that ends on a rat-a-tat-tat before the piano and bass resume their work. For all that, the track ends almost sweetly. This is good Jazz.
Empty Spaces is what I was waiting for—a solo piano piece. No disrespect to Gregor and Froman, not at all. But I wanted to hear Billy carry a track by himself and he delivers. The Test original is a lovely work.
The trio resumes with Coming Down Roses. An altogether excellent piece that deserves attention with the fluid bass lines and fine piano work. Mother’s Day with Freud is a terrific title, full of humor and anticipation. And the song is just that. It is an open-ended tune with disarming runs and free-wheeling imaginings. Yeah, you might want to enter therapy on your own after this.
The album concludes with Belonging. It is almost a reminiscence of the whole album with warm recollections of the trio playing in such great harmony and unity. It may be the loveliest track on the album and each of the three contribute to that loveliness in meaningful ways. It is a brilliant conclusion to a brilliant album.
It is a mistake to underestimate Coming Down Roses simply because it is Billy Test’s debut album as leader. This album has all the charm of a Herbie Hancock album, the wit of Chick Corea, and the intensity of Keith Jarrett. Billy Test is here to stay.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl
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