It's Not What You Think
Born in Indiana and raised for the most part in Versailles, Kentucky, bassist Kevin Tkacz (pronounced "tax") came into his own as a jazz artist in the exploratory urban environment of Chicago. A Brooklyn resident since 2005, he has made a mark on the cutting edge of the New York jazz scene, working with the likes of Matana Roberts, Ralph Alessi, Angelica Sanchez, Russ Lossing, Gerald Cleaver, Kris Davis, Eri Yamamoto and more. In parallel to his invaluable sideman experience, Tkacz has nourished an inquisitive, compelling voice as a leader and composer. He now makes his debut with It's Not What You Think, an impressive trio session featuring pianist Bill Carrothers and drummer Michael Sarin. "We were really in each other's zones and able to work cohesively as a unit," says Tkacz, who decided on a program of two original compositions, one standard and an engaging series of six improvised pieces. The music defies any strict categorization as free or structured, avant-garde or mainstream, and Tkacz chose exactly the band mates who would thrive in such an ambiguous setting. Tkacz, 37, began his musical life on trumpet and then guitar before picking up the electric bass. Switching to upright during his college years (at North Texas, University of Kentucky and DePaul), Tkacz began to investigate the music of Charlie Haden, Paul Motian and Keith Jarrett, to name a few. He cites Marc Johnson, Gary Peacock, Wilbur Ware, Ed Schuller and Anthony Cox as key role models on his instrument. The vocabulary we hear on It's Not What You Think - rich in lyricism, oblique in harmonic plan, unpredictable in dynamics and textural atmosphere - reflects an immersion in the finest music of the modern period, traditional and not. The album also reveals a personal voice, Tkacz's own offbeat and refreshing take on trio jazz today. Tkacz, Carrothers and Sarin came together for rehearsals and a warm-up gig at Brooklyn's Center for Improvisational Music before hitting the studio. "I picked two of my originals," Tkacz recalls, "but other than that I decided we were going to improvise. It came together quickly." The first two tracks, "East Riverdance" and "Gross Motor Skills," set a tone of spontaneous play, grounded by intuitive logic and a kind of funky pulse, with each instrument carving out space for individual and collective expression. "It's Easy to Remember," by Rogers & Hart, is a stark change of pace, although Carrothers transforms the classic ballad into a dreamscape for prepared piano, a curtain of bent and broken notes falling in kaleidoscopic patterns. The two Tkacz originals bring yet more diversity to the program. "I Said" bears traces of a Latin or even second-line rhythmic influence. "Subconsciously I had Kenny Werner in mind, his early trio with Ratzo Harris and Tom Rainey. There are no real chord changes but there's a root movement, which you can stay with or abandon." The more subdued "Promenade (For Christina)" opens with abstract knocks and pings from the piano and blossoms into gorgeous legato voicings, played in a rubato feel. "It's inspired by an evening on the Brooklyn promenade," says Tkacz, "and I wrote it at the keyboard, in one sitting." Tkacz titled the free pieces retrospectively, a process he compares to naming one's children. The agitated "Yo, Jimmy!" contains a motif that reminded him of the great Jimmy Garrison. "Wish for Something Better" begins with a drum solo and settles into a haunting piano-focused ballad with a perpetually unresolved quality. "The Perfect Human" takes it's name from a 1967 film by Jorgen Leth. "Last Call" closes the session with drum noise and col legno effects - a turbulent background to a mournful, hymn-like meditation that Carrothers formulated on the spot, picture-perfect. "It sounded to me like 4am, the feeling of being the last guy to get out of the bar," Tkacz muses. "It's also an homage to people in my life who have passed on." Assured, energetic, full of contrast and surprise, It's Not What You Think introduces a bassist and composer of exceptional gifts, signaling the first of many fine efforts to come.