Lotus Blossom

This seems to be an extraordinary year for extraordinary pianists, with new releases by veterans and new-to-me pianists nearly every month. Jeff Colella, for example, falls into both categories. He’s recorded three CDs with a trio since 1997, but has worked mostly under the radar, so to speak, with vocalists. Colella spent 16 years with Lou Rawls, until his death in 2006, and also worked with a raft of singers including Kenny Washington, Anita O’Day and Dolly Parton(!). Lotus Blossom finds him in a duet setting with Putter Smith, the superb bassist with whom he’s gigged for most of the past two decades in Los Angeles. Conceived as a compact and cohesive set of music, the album features Colella probing the work of Bill Evans (a major influence) with “Time Remembered” (an Evans original), and a playfully rendered “All Blues” from the landmark Kind of Blue album made when Evans was with Miles Davis. In his liner notes, guitarist Larry Koonse calls Smith the “Thelonious Monk of the bass,” and he’s very much an equal partner in the music whose lyricism matches Colella’s. The duo’s dreamy passion is achingly apparent on “The Very Thought of You,” Smith’s introspective “Desert Passes,” Colella’s lovely “Gone Too Soon” and the title track. Highly recommended.