REVIEW: David Chesky – “Aural Paintings”

Where do you start with a guy like David Chesky? In cataloging the musical resume of this iconic jazz master from New York, you’ll no doubt run into the same problem one generally has with not just jazz, but classical and other far-reaching instrumental music. It’s more than just a case of ‘albums one to ten’. You also have the intensive swathe of collaborations, memorable concerts, remasters and reworkings, extensive track lists of symphonic movements, uncountable side projects and soundtracks… And each will have their own awe-inspiring back story. One can get hopelessly lost in where to start. So it’s lucky then that Chesky’s latest album is a great and technically simple introduction to his music. Aural Paintings is the product of a three-piece outfit, recording jazz in a largely traditional fashion.

The first thing you’ll learn about Aural Paintings is that although there is a sense of musical progression, what we essentially have is one big song, broken down into segments, or in this case “Paintings”, which are numbered one to eight. Each track is comprised of the following: Double bass, drums and piano. On listening to this album front-to-back a number of times, I can state with fair certainty that there is no other element added to this staple ensemble besides the fleeting sample of a siren at the end of one of the tracks. But from this seemingly minimalist setup and its sensible looking album cover, we get a layered, engrossing and altogether creepy soundscape.

There is certainly a story to be found in this music. Though I’m not fully sure what the story is. I deliberately decided to do no research into what the theme of this record may have been because I thought it would be more fun to take the ride subjectively. Sinister music coupled with the title of “Paintings” evoked something of a haunted nature, and I was happy to run with that. And so ensued an emotional bond with the music which good jazz is very often deft at achieving.

Aural Paintings would serve well as the soundtrack to a suspense thriller. And the fact that there are only three instruments involved means that each one is granted ample breathing space. As the jazz connoisseur, you are able to break down each song into every note and drum beat as each of these elements ring out resonantly and without compromise. Option B of course, is to simply lay back and enjoy the ride. Aural Paintings is also the album to write to, paint to, assemble a suitably gothic piece of furniture to, or – if it’s a midnight country road and you’re all alone – drive to.

It goes without saying then that the composition is masterful. Chesky’s piano playing is the true constant in each song. He hits the keys and instantly unleashes a wealth of scales and commanding low-end chords which don’t let up until the very end. The other two instruments are humbly passive and all the more effective for it. The percussion is largely composed of brush drumming and comes and goes with tense effect, often expertly harmonizing with the double bass. And the double bass itself declares its presence as a more fleeting version of the pianos, meandering between scales and singular notes, and pausing for breath to let Chesky’s ominous keys ring in between.

As a musical project, Aural Paintings is a masterclass exercise in tension building and also a thrilling listen. Chesky’s latest creative project is back-to-basics jazz in one sense. In another, it is a remarkably tense record with a seriously damn cool climax. The musical ingenuity and the humility with which it is glossed makes for a show of expertise that has most certainly encouraged me to back-track on the vast archive of David Chesky‘s previous work.


Score: 8/10

Notable Tracks: “Painting No 2”; “Painting No 5”; “Painting No 7”

FFO: Dr Chesky, Miles Davis, Dave Eggar

Aural Paintings is released 29 June. To listen to a great deal more of David Chesky, check out his Spotify and Bandcamp pages, and for everything else in his music and history, visit his Official Website.


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