Adam Birnbaum: House Party Starting


House Party Starting


Adam Birnbaum (piano)


Travels (Smalls)

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Adam Birnbaum (piano),

Joe Sanders (bass), Rodney Green (drums)


Composed by Herbie Nichols


Recorded: New York, June 8, 2008


Rating: 86/100 (learn more)

In the liner notes, Adam Birnbaum calls this track a "tribute to the great unsung pianist/composers over the years who somehow missed the limelight." Birnbaum himself seems unlikely to join that group. Already the talented young pianist is on his way to being widely recognized, having won the 2004 American Jazz Piano Competition and performed with a plethora of top jazzers in the course of his burgeoning career.

Birnbaum's interpretation of Herbie Nichols's "House Party Starting" reveals a pianist with a sure touch, malleable phrasing, and an elaborate melodic conception. His notes are clearly struck and precisely enunciated, his improvisations devoid of clutter. Rhythmically, he's not inclined to stray too far, distinctly articulating the pulse even as he subtly manipulates it, moving ahead of and behind the beat in creative ways. Harmonically, Birnbaum is rather tied to the chords and their accompanying scales. He doesn't go "out," but builds moderately ingenious melodies staying mostly within the given framework. His bandmates serve him well, providing idiomatically correct accompaniment that perfectly mimics a mid-'50s bop rhythm section.

Based on this performance, one suspects that Birnbaum isn't the kind of pianist to labor in obscurity like Nichols (or Monk, before his success in middle age). Birnbaum is more in the mold of a Jacky Terrasson— a gifted technician and aesthetician who's synthesized his influences and contrived a fairly distinctive and definitely attractive middle-of-the-road acoustic jazz style.

Reviewer: Chris Kelsey

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