In addition to a fertile imagination, precise technique, and subtlety, Peggy Stern possesses an unusual frame of reference, which is one of the reasons for her original delivery. A pianist, composer, and arranger, Stern draws on Afro-Cuban, Brazilian, classical (Brahms, Ravel), and R&B influences, plus the playing of Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett, in her improvising and writing. There aren't many musicians around who combine these elements at all, let alone with the skill she exhibits. Here Stern leads a group composed of trumpet, trombone, tenor sax, and a rhythm section containing Latin percussionist Memo Acevedo. On the bossa nova "New Rain," a vocal choir performs, and the participants work together to produce lovely, graceful music. Even the tracks on which drummer Bernard Purdie appears have a relaxed, unhurried feel.
The songs here run a wide gamut -- "Salsickle" and "Toe to Toe" have an Afro-Cuban flavor. "Fugue," written for unaccompanied horns, evolves seamlessly into the (relatively) funky "Buckleup." "Attila/Zolong" is Stern's heartfelt tribute to guitarist Attila Zoller. Generally, Stern's themes are rather spare and her voicings open and rich. The hornmen, trumpeter Ron Horton, trombonist Art Baron, and tenorman John McKenna, do a beautiful job of bringing them to life. Stern's writing for the vocal choir, like this CD as a whole, has a soft, warm quality. During her solos, Stern demonstrates consummate artistry; she has an attractive timbre and gentle touch, and she constructs her spots lucidly, sustaining their momentum very well. And every note she plays makes sense. -- Harvey Pekar