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Theo Walentiny - Looking Glass (self-released)

5 April 2021

Brooklyn pianist Theo Walentiny leads an eponymous sextet, plays with singer Arta Jëkabsone, and co-leads the Aurelia Trio, but Looking Glass is his first solo performance album. In the grand tradition of albums by Keith Jarrett and Paul Bley, the ivory-tickler went into the studio with nothing prepared, casting his fate to the improvisational winds. It’s a risky move for even the most experienced improvisational musician, but it pays off for Walentiny.

The influence of romantic and impressionist classical music clearly shines through here, as Walentiny lays down spontaneous, introspective melodies that flit between overtly tuneful and abstract. But his admitted love for Charles Mingus’ Mingus Plays Piano infuses him with a grounding in instinctual moves, giving his playing an unpredictability that prevents these performances from sounding like a recital. With decades of training in both classical music and jazz, his technique handles anything he can throw at himself, from the dramatic chordwork of “Film I” to the minimalist fingerings of “Grey They Billow” to the twisting turns of “The Everlasting Rain Moves.” Fans of musicians exploring the edges of their own talent without a net will definitely find a new hero here.