“Dunton isn’t standing still. In the company of some mighty elite and well-established players, she is able to fit right in and project the confidence and growth that will undoubtedly serve her well in the next phase of her career.” — S. Victor Aaron, Something Else!, May 7, 2012
Kait Dunton’s second, original album, Mountain Suite, is many things: an amazingly seamless amalgam of classical and jazz, a series of evocatively feminine reflections on a higher life path, a stunning showcase of a jazz newcomer holding her own with legends, and just really easy to listen to.
Her music has this tendency to linger in warm, loving waves, as well. Bonus.
Mountain Suite, released April 4, 2012 on Real & Imagined Records, plays like a welcome spa retreat for the eternally restless set.
While taking her own retreat in the Canadian Rockies, the classically trained pianist felt inspired to write down a few notes which would later become Mountain Suite. She then put together a monster band (tenor saxophonist Bob Mintzer, drummer Peter Erskine, trumpeter John Daversa, and bassist Darek Oles) and an monster engineer, Rich Breen, to help flesh out the beginning with a middle and a full circle, a kind of musical journey in one album.
Journey is the operative word; Dunton didn’t mean for the original compositions to be taken lightly or separately, but together. “Mountain Suite is a journey,” she affirmed, in press for the record. “Whether that journey is physical, spiritual, emotional, or whatever else, is up to the listener — but many journeys take the same shape, and the music follows such an arc: deliberation, forward motion, exuberance, caution, reflection, discovery… and return.”
Dunton’s musical journey takes on a reflective shape, neither passive nor bombastic. It just is, colored with shimmering, natural tones, in a softening of hardened jazz edges, but still very much jazz in concept, form, function, and execution.
Kait Dunton introduces herself on “Day One” with a soothing, classical jazz lullaby that then goes slightly sharp in the finishes, a show of the cutting jazz she’s more than capable of. This song sounds so familiar, as if I’ve heard it a million times drifting off into a dream about modern ballet dancers, all lined up in various movements, bending, vibrating with change at every climactic corner…readying themselves for launch. Dunton’s emboldened piano work calls to mind an intriguing, plaintive style wrapped in glossy, but firm bows.
Saxophonist Bob Mintzer and pianist Kait Dunton perform together as yin and yang in the surprisingly seductive “Path.” The dramatic, catchy melody of “Path” commands attention right away, as the aggressively masculine sax cuts through the suggestive hints of desire intimated on piano, holding the poetic melody in place. Mintzer never allows Dunton to sink quite fully into the depths of despair, as his sax provides energetic, galvanizing contrast, alluringly above her grounded, feminine notes with bold, enticing waves. Fully aroused and stirred to action, Dunton takes off in her solo, making the keys dance and jump, becoming fully alive, never losing that essential melody, hinting at tentative hope, dropping unrequited yearning and that bottomless, nameless fear. What a lovely love-making session.
Dunton’s intuitive, measured touch on the keyboard in “Enchantment” lifts it from a pretty tune to a pretty jazz tune. She uses tension and release, heat and air on her fingers to place just the right flood of emotions. She can be tender and lyrical, but jam hellaciously if she has to. If there’s a song reflective most of her soul and indicative of her original style, it’s this one. Nice bass and percussive inflections from Darek Oles and Peter Erskine, too, in this spare, but buttery piece.
The show-stopper has to be “Frolic.” It rocks as a jazz tune. Each musician flies on their instruments, especially Mintzer, Dunton, and Erskine, in a race to get their individual points across without losing the momentum or the feel. Dunton doesn’t just hold her own, she surpasses her jazz heroes — and they’re no slouches. On her piano, she exercises flyaway demons with controlled chaos, effortlessly gliding, floating over the keys, traveling at what seems the speed of light, roughly then tenderly, a superb showmanship of space, fill, tone, impression, an artist with the medium of piano at her disposal. The others are chasing after her, catching up to support her flight.
“Return” is the last song on the album, and the one coming full circle, fully informed, fully changed. If the best of jazz had a demo for the average listener, this is it: the intimacy of jazz clubs, a late-night charge in the air, flowing piano, tempo horns, clinking glass, melody and harmony, drama and tease, dizzying bridge, floral chorus, rise and fall climax, a unified band coming together as one, everything.
After listening to this album over and over, I can’t help but agree with Kait Dunton. Each song contributes to the whole, to the overall feeling of having gone through an epiphany while taking a break from the hectic world, and coming back home renewed. It’s not a hard journey at all.