PEG DELANEY - Hotline
by J Hunter
Part of the attraction of Hotline, Peg Delaney's new CD, is its historical perspective. The disc includes two cuts from The Island Suite, a 1993 release recorded with a much larger ensemble than the quartet the Capital Region piano stalwart brought to Skidmore College in 2003. And while the older recordings are quite fine, I can safely say that (to paraphrase This Is Spinal Tap) I really like Delaney's new direction.
The opening track, Flame, sets the overall mood. From the title, you'd think this would be a scorching tune, with blasting lead lines and an overheated time signature. Flame burns, but it doesn't scorch. A candle also has a flame, and that's how Delaney starts - like one bright candle, with more being lit as the piece progresses, until the music is enveloped in a warm, friendly glow. Delaney walks you through the brightness, keeping it simple and lyrical. Then at the top of a rising chorus line, guitarist Cary DeNigris takes the lead in a seamless transition that shows why he's been working for Chico Hamilton for the last ten years.
There's more heat to be had in Feeling Hazy, a lazy blues that evokes a summer's day when all you want out of life is a cold drink and a working air conditioner. Though Latin is a creative force through most of Delaney's compositions, she has a real affinity for the blues, both here and on the bop-driven title track. Then there's Lullabye For Jessica, which starts out as a romantic 3/4 waltz but eventually gets down onto a nice greasy 4/4 beat that'll get you nodding your head just like mine was.
Throughout Hotline, Delaney's solos and fills follow a specific line that has the logic and imagination of a good storyteller. It's an old-school style that evokes Bill Evans, though on Crystal Silence - a driving piece reminiscent of the original Pat Metheny Group - I got a strong whiff of Lyle Mays. Metheny got all the pub back in the day (Still does, for better or worse), but I always found Mays to be the anchor of those early PMG records, bringing pieces back to earth after Metheny resolved his flights of synthesized fancy. In whatever matrix I've seen Delaney - from her trio with husband/drummer Bill Delaney, to the incredible Jazz Voices - she's always the rock, the center that holds, breathing fresh clean air into everything she plays.
While Delaney remains a constant throughout the disc, that's more than I can say for DeNigris. While his overall tone is fine, DeNigris' best work happens when he follows Delaney's lead and keeps it simple; he seems to get lost whenever he tries to do too much, or play too fast. On the title track, it's as if he'd just walked into the session, and was trying to catch everything that was thrown at him, only he forgot his fielder's glove and sunglasses. Gregg August - who's played with Paquito D'Rivera and the late Ray Barretto, and is a leader himself - is on the opposite end of the performance spectrum, laying down fat bass lines and solos that fit all occasions. Drummer Mike DeMarco stresses brushes and cymbals throughout the new material, giving the foundation a subtle undertone that dovetails perfectly with Delaney's performance style.
Obviously the 1993 cuts are very different due to the size of the unit, though there is a personal/professional link to the 2003 quartet: Otto Gardner holds down the bass chair for Jazz Voices. The cuts themselves (Beloved and My Tuna) are unquestionably tasty, echoing some of Tania Maria's early efforts. Unfortunately, their placement at the end of the disc puts the older tracks in stark contrast to the smaller unit and newer material, and could come across as jarring or out of character.
Again, Hotline gives you a sense of history, as well as an idea of the growth curve Delaney has traveled in the years since that early release. The newer music is not simpler, but it is less cluttered, allowing us a better view of the artist's process. With Peg Delaney, less is much, much more, and that's a direction I'll be happy to follow.
J HUNTER is a former announcer/producer for radio stations in the Capital Region and the Bay Area, including KSJS/San Jose (where he was Assistant Music Director/Jazz programming), Q104 WQBK/Albany, and WSSV/Saratoga. He has also written music and theatre reviews for the Glens Falls Chronicle. He currently resides in Clifton Park.