February 11, 2019. Pat Bianchi, by now a bonafide jazz star in his own right, may always be thought of in the same breath as Philadelphia native, and fellow Hammond B-3 master, Joey DeFrancesco. If Bianchi’s latest album, In the Moment, is any indication, this is something he’s leaning into, as opposed to shying away from.
With Bianchi leading, In the Moment’s core group is rounded out by Byron Landham (drums) and Paul Bollenback (guitar), both of whom also appeared on DeFrancesco’s 1993 album “Live at the Five Spot.” This is no coincidence—the album was clearly an early source of inspiration for the then adolescent Bianchi.
But if Bianchi has his favorite collaborators, In the Moment proves also that he plays well with others—which is no doubt made easier when, as here, those others are some of the pre-eminent names in jazz.
Vibraphonist Joe Locke cooks on the album’s first cut, a take on Chick Corea’s “Humpty Dumpty.” Guitarist Peter Bernstein and Bianchi run an intuitive two-man game, a jazzy pick and roll, on the next tune, a funkified version of “Blue Gardenia.” With “Mr. PM,” we get a Bianchi original where the front man introduces a melodic framework over which the venerable Pat Martino is free to build his always clean and precise lines of improvisation.
This is beginning to feel like a house we could live in—if only the master of the house could bring us a warm blanket or sit us next to a roaring fire. Bianchi obliges, backing late vocalist Kevin Mahogany on a nostalgic dusting-off of the Billy Eckstine ballad, “I Want to Talk about You.”
For as much as Pat Bianchi sensibly rides the brake on the Mahogany tune, that’s how much he floors it on a version of Willie Nelson’s “Crazy” thrown into overdrive. The combination of pop sensibility and improvisational virtuosity at a super-fast tempo calls to mind Brown and Roach’s iconic arrangement of “Cherokee,” a comparison not made whimsically. Take in lieu of coffee, for all the jolt, with none of the comedown.