Imagine Pablo Picasso being widely known only for his "Blue Period", with Galleries, Collectors, Art historians, Writers and the Public, showing only an interest in those paintings, utterly dismissing the rest of his career and life's work. This could be a parallel to the position Pianist, Composer Don Preston finds himself every time he clips on the lapel microphone for an interview, as the three years (1966-69) he spent as a member of Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention, seem to be the only part of his musical contribution he is asked about.
It is under the radar, of the Zappaphiles, that Preston's depth as an improvising artist lies. Growing up in a musical family, (Preston's father was composer in residence and director of the Detroit Symphony) by his 20's he had developed a technique at the Piano and Upright Bass so prodigious, that he was working with Yusef Lateef, Herbie Mann, Tommy Flannigan , and Elvin Jones, and held down the Piano chair for a European Tour by Nat King Cole's Big Band, when Nat, himself a fine pianist, began to focus on the show-biz side of music.
Mr. Preston blames his penchant for atonal or "outside" music on teachers who would smack the backs of his hands every time he would make a mistake at the keyboard, but one would suspect that working with Zappa and Carla Bley, likely made an impression too. Compositions by both appear on "Transformation" the 2000 release by the working trio with Bassist Joel Hamilton and Drummer Aaron Cline. Those who have a passion for the piano trio as an art form, won't be disappointed with this disc, as the tradition of interplay between the voices that began with Bill Evan's first trio, continues here, with perhaps more emphasis on a conversational approach as the Bass, and then the Drums step toward center.
The Cole Porter standard "I Love You" is presented with it's melody dissected, the harmony removed, and discussed at length, with drummer Cline toying with the implications of the phrases while mindful of the silences that separate them, a rare quality for a percussionist given full rein.
The sparkling quality of the piano as recorded in the studio, the depth of field of the soundstage, will contrast with the Bley texts first put to vinyl in the mid 1960's, and surely Don Preston's ruminations four decades on, offer fresh facets of what was already there: the desire, and determination to do what true artists must do, go where none have gone before.
Many thanks here to
Global Around Town Senior Music Correspondent
for this contribution.
His sensitive insights and observations
are always a pleasure to behold.