Sean A. Lane - Crying Sky Blue  (Downbeat Dad Music)

late night rendezvousOne of the most exciting parts of the music industry these days is the explosion of indie artists, who are using iTunes, myspace, the internet and other alternative marketing avenues to get their music out there. Great jazz artists no longer have to sign to a major label to reach the masses beyond their home base. Folks in the Baltimore/Washington music scene are luckier than the rest of us in that they’ve been enjoying the vibrant, eclectic jazz pianist Sean A. Lane at local venues for more than a decade. He’s been playing venues of every size in that region as both a soloist and member of popular groups like Jazzwerx and the Bay Jazz Project.

Taking stylistic risks that not many musicians dare these days, he’s played it all—jazz standards, smooth jazz, R&B, Dixieland, et al—at The Kennedy Center, One Step Down, Takoma Station, The National Press Club, Constitution Hall and Camden Yards, among others. He’s also done something quintessentially “Washington,” playing at three presidential inaugural celebrations!

While his debut album Request For Romance was a solo piano venture featuring only cover tunes, Crying Sky Blue finds him playing with a full ensemble, mixing three solid standards among a group of exciting original pieces. He launches with a brisk and lively, seven and a half minute jaunt through “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise,” a very familiar jazz standard reworked with a slightly Latin swing feel; it’s highlighted by a colorful alto solo by Jim Snidero over Lane’s lighthearted harmony lines, which lead to a bright and cheerful piano solo that display’s the pianist’s incredible melodic and percussive chops. Lane’s liner notes explain that he learned the lovely and lyrical ballad “Sunshower” after hearing its composer, jazz great Kenny Barron, play it at a D.C. club. Lane’s thoughtful and romantic arrangement both pays tribute to Barron and makes it sound fresh and new.

Lane introduces his original material with the wistful and slightly melancholy reflection “Thoughts Of Walking,” which he wrote about his doubts regarding keeping his Bay Jazz Project group together; Justine Miller’s gentle flugelhorn solo is a nice focal point for his emotions. Lane and his inspired group kick it up a few notches on the cool, bluesy and strutting vibe of “Stormin’ Norman,” which starts with a small horn section melody before giving way to another energetic piano solo. The softly lit ballad “My Heart, It Ponders,” featuring the soulful, dreamy vocals of Christian Josi, is Lane’s tribute to the music of Frank Sinatra and Chet Baker he has always been inspired by. “On The Way Out” is cool, laid back straight ahead jazz featuring Seth Kibel’s smokey tenor magic. Lane wrote the hypnotic, free flowing piano driven (with a touch of sweet late night sax) gem “Love You Too!” for his wife Kathy, and the listener can tell that while they’ve been through some trying times, his passion for her shines through. Lane’s rock influences shine through on a bright, uptempo jazz rendition of Neil Young’s iconic “Sugar Mountain,” a track that will please classic rock fans who think they don’t like jazz!

Lane shifts tempos again as he closes with the title track, a gentle yet dramatic, close to eight minute reflective piece that weaves his graceful piano with Kibel’s sweet alto flute; its use of cello hints at a classical influence. The pianist’s main objective with all the moodswinging and wide range of styles and influences seems to be to show the excitement that can happen when great music—rather than commercial radio play or other inhibiting outside considerations--is the only thing on the agenda. Check Lane out!


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- Jonathan Widran