Lynne Arriale Trio: The Lights Are Always On (Challenge Recordings Int, 2021)

Lynne Arriale’s music is as mellow as a cup of tea. Then she wakes you, with notes of spice, and powerful modal caffeine. Her palette is wide. The colors are splashes of impressionist pastels. The Lights Are Always On has songs dedicated to her many heroes, and they build with honor and éclat and panache, leaving you feeling invigorated and calm, and clean.

The opening song, “March On”, is not a march but a waltz, but it has the feel of movement to something ever greater, and more haunting. Drummer E.J. Strickland is understated and grand, with bold hints of drama. Jasper Somsen on bass is an almost invisible presence, blending in with the low notes of Arriale’s piano, knitting and weaving the trio together.

“Sisters” is one of my favorites, with its gospel-soul feel, with the power to overcome tears, or to overcome through tears. Arriale’s solo is full of origami shapes, and leaps and dips with arpeggios and trills and blocks, with a heavy rhythm that is always light. It fades out with a light that keeps shining.

Arriale has great emotional pull, and there are whirlpools and whirlwinds in her playing. “Loved Ones” is another one I like, which starts out with some deep, brief melancholy but gets happy, and stays that way for the rest of the way through. Her chord progressions are interesting, unexpected but satisfying and delightful.

There is a deep technical tension in her playing, with slow tempos giving building rhythms a heavy speed. “The Notorious RBG” is a modal workout, with a break where she goes back to changes, and it is a fascinating play of dark and light. The sound is early McCoy Tyner, anchoring the bursts of the Coltrane quartet. We can see Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s face as the song comes to a powerful stop.

There is this pattern in Arriale where she begins with darkness, then everything is bathed in light. This is a strong recording, about strength. The penultimate number, “Walk in My Shoes”, is another modal number, this one dedicated to John Lewis. This also has a Coltrane sound, with a glorious feel of tenderness. She has succeeded in putting us in the hero’s shoes, the light of the powerful mind pushing on through protests, and making change. And she has succeeded in putting us back in our shoes, with this invested strength to go on and change.

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