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Austin Peralta - Endless Planets

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Artist: Austin Peralta

Album: Endless Planets

Label: Brainfeeder

Review date: Apr. 1, 2011

From players like Pat Martino and Eric Kloss in the 1960s to the pubescent starts of Loren Stillman and Eldar in the 1990s and aughts, the pathways of jazz progress are peppered by the work of prodigies. Pianist Austin Peralta fits confidently into this continuum of precocity. His father, Stacy, made a virtuosic mark in another wildly disparate art form back in the 1970s before branching out as a media artist mainly concerned with documentary film. The younger Peralta’s interests are comparably inclusive with classical and jazz as roots, but hip-hop, electronica and experimental audio-visual elements also thread through as creative outlets.

Peralta’s built up a sizeable resume under employers as diverse as Adam Rudolph, Ron Carter and Erykah Badu since making his performing debut in his early teens. He’s also collaborated with a myriad of more age-immediate contemporaries including Bobby McFerrin’s beat boxing son, Taylor, and the enigmatic Dr. Strangeloop. On Endless Planets, Peralta funnels his already prodigious performance experience into album that exhibits a number of strengths while also miring in a number of weaknesses.

Sidemen in the venture include altoist Zane Musa, Ben Wendel on tenor and soprano, bassist Hamilton Price and drummer Zach Harmon. Strangeloop also lends a hand, bookending the album’s tracks with washes of interstitial electronics, which frankly end up sounding more gimmicky than seamless in their integration. This is particularly true on “The Lotus Flower," an opening invocation stunted by Wendel’s anemic soprano and lukewarm noodling by the leader. “Capricornus” rights that early wrong by generating a sturdy vamp that allows Price and Harmon to break a sweat via a boisterous flexing groove and the horn players to hit with greater force.

As evidenced by the track titles, spiritual themes similar to Impulse-era Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders are another abiding influence. Unwieldy in both appellation and execution, the bulk of “The Underwater Mountain Odyssey” comes off as cousin to any acoustic Chick Corea composition of the past 20 years through decent, but derivative playing. Broadcasting its ballad structure like a book does by cover, “Ode to Love” effectively indulges Peralta’s sentimental side while still managing only a modicum of sparks. Wendel winds out a more effective soprano showing, and there’s also solid brushwork by Harmon and bass commentary from Price. Peralta’s willingness to cede generous space to his colleagues pays off both here and during the hard-bop heavy “Interlude," a frustratingly terse glimpse of the quintet blowing with the effervescent looseness of a casual nightclub gig.

“Algiers” returns the ensemble to fertile groove territory and it weighs in as the strongest entry, with moody interplay between Peralta’s dampened keys and Price’s thrumming patterns at the outset. The two players lock on an elastic vamp that carries the remainder of the cyclically-structured piece through minor-keyed patterns endemic to its title. “Epilogue” adds vocalist Heidi Vogel and The Cinematic Orchestra for an anticlimactic fragment of floating somnambulistic atmosphere.

Peralta has the chops end of his artistry covered. It’s the checkered program to which he applies them that suggests he still has ample room to grow.

By Derek Taylor

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