Release date: August 12, 2022
On his 23rd album as a leader, renowned pianist, composer and arranger Geoffrey Keezer continues to augment and refine his distinctive style with his dazzling amalgamation of genres on Playdate. The album’s lighthearted namesake is an homage to the concept of planning a playdate for a group of kids. Rallying a group of distinguished collaborators, Keezer calls this virtuosic cast “Geoffrey Keezer and Friends.”
On Playdate, an idiomatic mastery of funk, hard bop, gospel, heavenly strings and the blues is externalized by an all-star musical roster, including collaborators Shedrick Mitchell on organ, Ron Blake on tenor and soprano saxophone, Richie Goods on acoustic and electric bass and Kendrick Scott on drums. This new offering also features special guest guitarists Aayushi Karnik and Nir Felder, as well as percussionist Munyungo Jackson.
Though his intention was to remain “old school” with a Blue Note-style blowing date, Keezer found inspiration in strings and percussion amidst his writing and decided to expand. Infused with Keezer’s characteristic flair, his variety on Playdate is fueled by a creative upbringing in a musical household. Keezer’s opening track “Refuge” is one example, taking loose inspiration from a piano concerto he wrote some two decades prior in 2001. In fact, the concerto was a family affair, written for a symphony orchestra in Keezer’s hometown of Eau Claire, Wisconsin where his mother played French horn and father played percussion. Influenced by his family’s extensive record collection, Keezer takes on a Rachmaninoff-like authority here, while also sourcing impact from Alice Coltrane’s string writing on John Coltrane’s Infinity. French hornist Rachel Drehmann also appears on “Refuge”, overdubbing herself into a four-piece horn section.
“I.L.Y.B.D.” (“I Love You But Damn”) calls upon the milieu of Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers, specifically in 1989 when Keezer joined the final lineup succeeding Benny Green in the piano seat. Mitchell and Blake fix their respectively fiery solos before Keezer fashions a most jubilant performance, embodying the spirit of, as he puts it, “the late 1980s New York piano style,” which includes the likes of James Williams, Mulgrew Miller, John Hicks, Kirk Lightsey, Harold Mabern, Donald Brown, Tommy Flanagan, Walter Davis Jr., Kenny Barron and Hank Jones – all active in New York’s piano bar circuit when Keezer arrived in New York City – as well as Ahmad Jamal, McCoy Tyner and Phineas Newborn.
Funk comes to the fore on Keezer’s arrangement of “Tomorrow” by The Brothers Johnson, subsequently covered by Quincy Jones and sung by Tevin Campbell on Jones’ 1989 record Back on the Block, here Highlighting Felder’s prowess on guitar. Where Felder is absent, we see Karnik, a student of Keezer’s at Juilliard, on guitar for “Refuge” and “M’s Bedtime Blues.”
Among the personnel, the eminent composer, arranger and keyboardist Shedrick Mitchell contributes two compositions (tracks 3 and 5), both focusing on the bandleader’s tonal qualities. “Her Look, Her Touch,” introduces itself with a delicate ballad from Mitchell, lending a sublime backdrop for Blake, who enters in a delightful vein that effortlessly complements Keezer’s entrance.
Expansive harmonies and rhythmic interplay between the piano and strings open “Bebah,” before morphing into a burner on which Blake and Keezer play with optimal clarity. Another Mitchell composition, “Bebah” also features Keezer’s second orchestral arrangement on the album. Keezer began arranging strings more recently over the past few years, contributing to Mitchell’s powerful 2020 date, What Do You Say? as well as The Baylor Project’s GRAMMY®-nominated album Generations and Richie Goods’ My Left Hand Man, both of which also include Mitchell’s gripping discourse. Keezer adds: “Shedrick’s various solos are like master classes in drawbar technique.”
The boisterous essence of Playdate is cemented on the album closer, “M’s Bedtime Blues.” The tune is based on a melody that Keezer and his wife, vocalist Gillian Margot, created when their son began to play with his drum kit over nightly FaceTime sessions. As the family connected to their loved ones from afar, they would play songs for Keezer’s father over the phone. “We warmed up with that tune in the studio, and decided to use it,” Keezer adds.
“I’m trying to dig deeper and deeper into what is my style, my personality as a pianist, and how I can develop it more,” the bandleader adds, commenting on his new offering. On Playdate, Geoffrey Keezer upholds his old friend Christian McBride’s observation that he “never repeats himself.” Expanding beyond the straight ahead and into a vigorous enterprise, Playdate is anchored by decades of rich influences, emanating the mastery of an artist who continues to surprise himself. “I want there to be moments on this record that make you do a double take. I want it to be unpredictable and exciting and fun to listen to.”
"On Playdate, an even more seasoned Keezer continues to deeply engage with his creativity while surprising himself with the heights he and his ensemble can reach in their dynamic interplay." Read the full review here.
Listed on Chris Philips’ ‘The Blueprint C’ in the August 2022 issue of Jazzwise Magazine.
NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD
"Keezer [...] hasn't lost a step, chops-wise, since his debut effort some 33 years ago." Read the review in the August issue of New York City Jazz Record here.
BEBOP SPOKEN HERE
"When I got to the end, I played it again, but louder." Read the review here.
"..Playdate balances the formal with the casual so immaculately." Read the review here.
THE BIG TAKEOVER
"Distinguishing himself as much as a bandleader as a musician, Keezer puts Playdate in the top tier of jazz records in 2022." Read the review here.
THE NEW YORK SUN
"..he is among the youngest of contemporary jazzmen to have apprenticed with such giants of the bebop era as Blakey and Art Farmer.." Read this review here.
STRAIGHT NO CHASER PODCAST
"A conversation with keyboardist Geoffrey Keezer crossed another name off my list of top-notch artists I have not had the pleasure to meet." Listen to the full podcast interview here.
"On all six pieces, Keezer enfolds himself into the ensemble, then bursts out with the characteristically creative, technically stunning, sui generis improvisations.." Read the feature story here.
"Geoffrey Keezer’s soundscape is signatured with a deceptively gentle determination as he traverses the piano keyboard." Read the feature here.
TAKE EFFECT REVIEWS
"From funk to hard bop to gospel and many places in between, Keezer and company make for a textured and exciting listen that’s as unpredictable as it is memorable." Read the review here.
"Geoffrey Keezer has come a long way since as an 18-year-old he joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in 1989." Read the review here.
"Eau Claire native and recent Grammy winner Geoffrey Keezer says that the award-winning song that earned him the honor has a big connection to the Chippewa Valley.." Watch/read the news story here.
"Keezer’s talent reflects positively on the fertile musical ground provided by Eau Claire.." Read the complete feature story on Keezer's GRAMMY win here.
"Keezer sees Joy's triumph at the 2023 GRAMMYs as a reminder, loud and clear, that jazz is no antiquated or peripheral artform. Rather, it is a vibrant and alive genre very much in the now." Read the full article here.