Street Date: September 15, 2023
Label: OA2 Records

Heartbeat, features jazz heavyweights Gilad Hekselman, Matt Penman and Obed Calvaire, and comprises nine originals, four played by piano trio, five by quartet with guitar. Written mostly in the early days of the Covid pandemic while awaiting the birth of his first child, the album draws inspiration from the anticipation of becoming a father, and the feeling of crisis and isolation at the start of the pandemic in New York. Containing playful, intricate compositions as well as simple, lyrical ones, the album spans a range of moods and stylistic influences, with an emphasis on strong melodic lines, rhythmic exploration and group interplay. Having focused on the piano trio on his previous albums, this one marks a change with the addition of guitar on five tracks. Heartbeat will be released on OA2 Records on September 15, 2023

“I wrote most of these tunes in the first months of the Covid pandemic, that strange and anxious time when New York felt like the epicenter of the apocalypse and we were mostly confined to home, uncertain of the future, unsure even what we should be doing with our time,” Ben reflects. “For me it was also a hopeful and optimistic time as we waited for the arrival of our first child. This set of pieces takes inspiration from the anticipation of fatherhood and the feeling of crisis and isolation at the start of the pandemic.”

Notably, Winkelman altered his writing process during this period. “Whereas I usually compose at the piano with pencil and manuscript paper at hand, I instead made demo versions on the computer, which led me to try different sounds. Some pieces took a different direction because of the sound palette I was playing with, and I thought that some of them would come to life more with the addition of guitar, while others would work well as trio tunes. I’ve focused on the piano trio on my previous recordings, and while I still love this format, I felt it would be interesting to try mixing it up,” he explains. 

The quartet tunes bookend Heartbeat, with three at the beginning, two at the end, and the four trio tunes grouped in the middle.

The album opens with “Praise”, a lively piece that combines Winkelman’s interests in odd meters and contemporary gospel music. The melody in the first part of the tune functions as a long introduction, and plays with a variety of beat groupings in 9/4 time. The main melody comes in after the piano and guitar solos, and functions as a shout chorus. The tune finishes with a virtuosic drum solo over a vamp, its rising key changes giving it the flavor of a rousing church praise anthem.

“Fort Tilden” is a languid piece influenced by Brazilian music. It opens with an ostinato on Rhodes, while the guitar and bass play the melody in unison. When writing it Winkelman imagined a lilting lyrical melody floating over a samba percussion ensemble. Named after a beach in south Queens, it evokes the beach’s strangely isolated feeling, with its abandoned bunkers and open spaces. 

“Chilches” is a happy medium up tempo swing tune that features solos from all four musicians. It’s named after a small seaside town outside Malaga, Spain.

Opening the trio section of the album is “Wandering”, a beautiful, contemplative ballad that visits a number of key centers. The next track, “Isolation”, is a twelve bar piece with a chord progression that feels cyclical. Its openness gives it a free sound, and contrasts nicely with the complexity of some of the other uptempo tunes on the album. Calvaire and Penman trade choruses before the closing melody.

The Wonky Waltz” is not actually a waltz, but the title is apt as it has some flavor of classical piano music, as well as early jazz. This tune revisits an interest in ragtime and stride piano that Ben has sometimes drawn inspiration from. It also revisits another of Ben’s ongoing interests - arranging for piano trio as if it’s a small orchestra. The piece plays with an aural illusion - it’s in 5/4 but parts of it sound like 2/4 because of the two against five grouping. 

The run of trio tunes concludes with “The Plague”, a ballad with a haunting melody reminiscent of a folk tune. 

“Heartbeat”, the title track, opens with an odd meter vamp before the entry of a simple pentatonic melody played by guitar and piano. The coda features a summery melodic motif over a gradual metric modulation, and acts as a feature for the drums. Ben wrote this piece by experimenting with a synth sound over a vamp in Logic Pro on his computer, and while it was still in progress he heard his son’s heartbeat for the first time. 

The album closes with “Machine”, a slower spacious groove tune that opens with a drum intro before the melody gets played by guitar and Rhodes. Gilad plays wonderful guitar effects over the outro. Ben started writing this tune as a synth melody over a drum machine pattern. 

Album: Balance
Street Date: March 15th, 2019
Label: OA2 Records

Recorded at Sear Sound studios in New York with drummer Obed Calvaire and bassist Matt Penman, Balance is the fifth album from award-winning jazz pianist and composer Ben Winkelman. It features nine originals and the reworking of a Thelonious Monk composition. The album explores the elusive balance between composition and improvisation, planning and spontaneity, the intellectual and the intuitive. Winkelman will celebrate this release with an extensive Spring 2019 tour through New York, DC, Detroit, Milwaukee, Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Montreal and Toronto.

On this album Ben Winkelman filters his diverse musical interests through a jazz perspective: Afro-Cuban, gospel and classical music, with a focus on Latin rhythms in odd meters. The Melbourne-raised, NYC-based musician takes a fresh approach to the piano trio format, with an emphasis on the ensemble. His compositions feature the three musicians, not only as soloists, but as if they were a small orchestra, giving them parts that are integral to the compositions. Through his dynamic musicianship, Winkelman works to establish a balanced representation of himself, his trio and his musical experiences to date.  

Balance opens with “Bx12 Part One” - a track that explores the compositional possibilities of claves in odd meters, an ongoing theme in his writing. Having played for an African-American church since 2011, the pianist incorporates elements of gospel into “Wheels”, a joyful uptempo swing tune. “Merri Creek”, a reminiscence of a creek in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, blends classical and Afro-Cuban influences. The fourth and eighth tracks on the recording are ballads that reflect on Winkelman’s visits to Santiago De Compostela in Galicia, Spain. “Santiago” recalls his first visit, in winter, when “the old city was beautiful and somehow dreamlike under the rain”, while the gospel-influenced “Fala Baixiño” translates to “speak softly” in Galician. “Window Shopping” is an odd metered three part invention that segues into an Afro-Cuban timba style coda. The ninth tune, “Bye-Ya”, honors one of Winkelman’s jazz heroes, Thelonious Monk. Winkelman admires the adaptable quality of Monk’s compositions, and their ability to retain a distinct personality even when given very different treatments. Linking back to the album’s opening composition, this ten-track collection closes with “Bx12 Part Two”, which takes its title from a bus route in The Bronx. Winkelman likes for his pieces based on odd meter claves to feel natural, almost danceable. This tune does just that, and as a whole, the album serves as a presentation of Winkelman’s virtuosic, diverse and balanced musicality.

For: Heartbeat

"I liked Winkelman’s sixth album Heartbeat, because it goes beyond from his previous albums in terms of concept and richness of layers, and captures a more contemporary and dynamic atmosphere."  Read the full review here.

"Lively gospel piano and guitar lead into the intricate opening track, "Praise." Piano and guitar solos follow, before Calvaire's drums are let loose over Winkelman's vamp."  Read the full review here.

"The whole nine tracks are excellent but this one really caught me: The Wonky Waltz is a masterpiece of fun and complexity."  Read the full review here.

"Written at a crucial time – specifically facing the dual challenges of the pandemic and impending fatherhood – pianist Ben Winkelman’s sixth album Heartbeat captures an emotional whirlwind, with anticipation and dread mixing freely and productively."  Read the full review here.

"As a threesome, Winkelman sets up a gentle “Isolation” that eventually builds up to form a pastoral post bop suite, while Penman is playful during “The Plague”..."  Read the full review here.

"Winkelman and his fellow travelers traverse a free-flowing musical landscape. Changing tempos on a dime, constructing a mood landscape as they play."  Read the full review here.

For: Balance

"This is Winkelman’s 5th recording as a leader and he’s on point!"  Read the full review here.

"The kind of cat that keeps you on your toes but doesn't indulge in art for art's sake, he tickles the ear as well as the fancy with this set that just let's the music do what it will----and it always does the right thing. Solid stuff that's going to keep his legend growing."  Read the full review here.

"The title of this album fits well, as pianist Ben Winkelman creates a symbiotic balance between interplay and soloing..." Read the full review here.

"Winkelman does indeed nail the theme of balance here: between exotic and familiar, sharp and playful, simple and multi-shaded (and many other characteristics besides). This whirlwind of a tour has enough life to encompass them all."  Read the full review here.

Featured in New Jazz Adds.

"Bouncing between different moods and themes in short order, this trio never misses a beat. The personality of composer and interpreter each ring true in the performance's unfolding. "  Read the full review here.

"The intellectual meets the intuitive by design throughout the entirety of Balance as Winkelman’s trio of equals, perpetually seeking a state of equilibrium, approach joyful swing, hard-hitting rock and chamber-like inventions as one big, interconnected thing of beauty."  Read the full review here.

"A startlingly impressive trio session focusing on his original tunes, the album brims with ideas and his love of Afro-Caribbean rhythms." Read the full show preview here.

"Balancing composition and improvisation, he crosses the lines between Latin, jazz, and classical, bestowing a distinct feel to each of the 10 tunes that compose the album, which appropriately got the title Balance."

"Ben Winkelman is an accomplished pianist now and by no means an ‘artist’ behind the kit. Does his first instrument play into his mentality on his latest disc Balance? Perhaps!" Full interview here

Read exclusive Q&A here.