The CD features Yeager's longstanding trio with bassist Danny Weller and drummer Matt Rousseau, as well as special guests saxophonist Noah Preminger, vocalist Aubrey Johnson, and trumpeter Jean Caze in ten original compositions, as well as The Beatles' "Julia" and an adaptation of excerpts from a movement of the Quartet For The End Of Time by the 20th century classical master, Olivier Messiaen.
An acclaimed artist's second recording as a leader shivers with expectation. Was all the promise heard so clearly on the debut album illusory, or is this nascent performer the real deal? Jason Yeager can rest easy. His sophomore recording, Affirmation (to be released October 21 on Greg Osby's Inner Circle Music label), indeed affirms that the young New York-based pianist, composer and bandleader is expanding his individual voice as an artist while further developing the gifts first revealed on his 2011 album, Ruminations. At the helm of a longstanding trio featuring the bassist Danny Weller and the drummer Matt Rousseau, Yeager explores the supple contours of ten original compositions, as well as The Beatles' "Julia" and an adaptation of excerpts from a movement of the "Quartet For The End Of Time" by the 20th century classical master, Olivier Messiaen. To enrich the sonic palette of the ensemble, Yeager carefully incorporates the talents of much-praised saxophonist Noah Preminger, vocalist Aubrey Johnson, and trumpeter Jean Caze. Affirmation boldly and persuasively displays Yeager's interest in blending his various jazz, classical, blues, pop and world music inspirations; the results speak of a deepening artistic vision that demands attention.
If the performances captured on Affirmation resonate with assurance, this quality may lie in the gestation period that preceded the recording. Tunes were polished in rehearsals and on the bandstand long before the trio ever saw the inside of a studio. In fact, during much of that time, Yeager, Weller, and Rousseau all lived and rehearsed in the same Brooklyn apartment building. The comfort that exudes from the album is also testament to the power of longtime friendships: Yeager met four of the supporting players as a student at New England Conservatory; he met Caze at Smalls, the New York nightclub that acts as an incubator for burgeoning jazz players, soon after he (Yeager) moved to New York City.
"For me, the album's title reflects an affirmation of the important choices I've made over the past four years," Yeager says. "My increasing passion for music, the friendships I've made, the support that I've received, and the amazing performances that have taken place in the past few years have all convinced me that I am on the right track. In a sense, Affirmation charts my transition from being a young adult to becoming a full-fledged adult. The album is true to who I am, and how the trio has evolved. I want the music to connect with listeners, to make them feel something, to be both accessible and challenging. As Danilo Perez stressed to me, music is about community and connecting with people. I want the music to be heard and to mean something to others. As for the trio, experience has allowed us to become more fearless. We are taking more chances because we feel comfortable with and supportive of each other. Both as friends and as musicians I feel that we have each other's back."
Yeager's piano style embraces the past and present, with traces of such heroes as Bud Powell, Bill Evans, and Thelonious Monk mingling with a unique and contemporary approach to melody, harmony, rhythm and form. Featuring plenty of improvisation, his original tunes are indeed compelling compositions, pieces intended to impact listeners with their distinct melodies and aural appeal, rather than serve merely as springboards for the leader's pianistic wares, impressive as they may be. While Yeager's command and invention are heard throughout, each performance also demonstrates the integral nature of the supporting players: "Achi" and "Blues For Billy P" offer convincing displays of the awesome talents of bassist Weller, while "Stumblebop" and "Twelve Etude" give the impressive Rousseau a chance to shine. "Smiled First" makes exceptional use of Preminger's lyrical qualities; "Julia" takes on newly expressive contours through Johnson's vocalizing; and "Keep the Fire" captures fierce statements by Caze and Preminger. The extraordinarily sensitive interplay heard on excerpts from Messiaen's "Dance of Fury, For the Seven Trumpets" is yet more proof that a major, far-thinking piano trio is among us.
Now a New York resident, the 27-year-old Yeager has considerable personal and professional ties to the New England area where he was born and raised. Currently teaching at Boston's Berklee College of Music, where he is one of the college's youngest faculty members, Yeager graduated with honors from a double degree program at Tufts University and New England Conservatory (NEC), where he studied International Relations and Jazz Performance. At NEC, he was mentored by such prominent pianists as Danilo Perez, Fred Hersch, Ran Blake and Frank Carlberg, as well as such significant instrumentalists as Jerry Bergonzi and John McNeil.
Yeager has performed with several noteworthy artists, including Greg Osby, Linda Oh, Sara Serpa and Mark Walker. He can also be heard on the album Tipping Point by violinist Jason Anick, among other recordings.