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Billy Childs - The Winds of Change (Mack Avenue)

22 March 2023

As well-versed in classical music as in jazz, pianist/composer Billy Childs has a touch at the keyboard like few others. Ostentatious, yet never what you’d call flashy, the L.A. native seemingly lets his fingers fly at will, though they always chase the tune rather than indulge themselves. His latest album The Winds of Change shows off his skills to their best effect. His melodies often shift when least expected, going off in a direction that, for a split second, makes no sense – but after two seconds, totally does. Given the way he plays, that makes sense, and trying to figure out whether he plays that way because his tunes shift gears at will, or his melodies morph to accommodate his exploratory wandering is a hopeless chicken/egg situation. Fortunately, on this record he has bandmates who can follow him wherever he goes: drummer Brian Blade and bassist Scott Colley make an extremely versatile rhythm section, and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire fields a similar aesthetic to Childs on his own records. Together the quartet makes the 6/8 “Master of the Game,” Kenny Barron’s “The Black Angel,” and the mini-masterpice that is the title track feel lighter than air, even as they dance with satisfying substance. All the talent and skill present on this record comes down to this: a refined, gorgeous blend of hard bop and chamber jazz, conducted by a jazz master with a highly unique voice.