Further proof that America’s got talent, but sometimes refuses to give it due recognition is Robert Prester. The pianist is not simply prodigiously talented, but a certifiable genius. He has four recordings to his credit, has recently written and premiered a piano sonata in Mexico and, as one would thus imagine, is fluent in classical and non-classical styles and idioms. His pianism is born of an immaculate sense of melody rhythm; he has a flawless sense of dynamics and expression, and he often spontaneously combusts in breathtaking filigreed runs and monumental arpeggios. And here’s the thing: Robert Prester can also easily pass for a Latin-Jazz musician. His sense of clave is so rhythmically intelligent that he can not only play in clave, but also write idiomatically, as if he were native to one of the islands.
The last recording that Robert Prester made was in 2013. It’s called Dogtown and it is a masterpiece. In his hands and with his pen, Latin-Jazz becomes a white-hot volcano of intense expression; it presents formidable technical challenges, all of which are surmounted almost with nonchalance, the pianist’s focus resolutely serving his extraordinary melodic and harmonic sense. He has a particularly rewarding sense of rhythm, high-sprung, light and incisive and entirely secure which pays its way through the tricky mechanisms of Latin-Jazz – evident in his own breathtaking idiomatic writing and performance. Hearing him navigate through the massive cadenzas of “Toy Soldiers” and “Sewing Circle” as if they and their grandeur were the most natural thing in the world leaves no doubt that Robert Prester is to be listened to, certainly watched and to be reckoned with.
“Bite Size Steps” is his take on John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”. It is exhilarating, extrovert and virtuosic. Robert Prester balances no-hold-barred rhythmic speed with immaculate Afro-Cuban ethnicity. This is an epic-scale thrill-a-minute drama with intelligent pacing and those same rock-solid musical instincts that he might bring to his classical side, now dedicated to weaving John Coltrane’s “sheets of sound” classic into an incredible Latin-Jazz tapestry. And yet, despite the riotous Afro-Caribbean colours and textures apart, Robert Prester imparts a powerful, balletic floating, flying and pirouetting sense to each song.
Robert Prester’s surging spontaneity is matched by the visceral thrills of bassist Nicky Orta and the immaculate percussion skills of Ettienne Fuentes Jr, Dave Schanzer and Jack Ciano (on “Realm of Possibility”). Terezinha Valois’ poised vocalastics – especially on the Flamenco-charged “Noches de Sevilla” and the horn playing of Jonathan Sigel combine with Robert Prester and the percussionists to complete this wonderfully vivid picture; all aided and abetted by sound that is radiant, clear and detailed.
Track List: 1. Vincenzo’s Blues; 2. Beneath Wind’s Shadow; 3. Dogtown; 4. Realm of Possibility; 5. Toy Soldiers; 6. Percussion Interlude; 7. Noches De Sevilla; 8. The Prophecy; 9. Sewing Circle; 10. Bite Size Steps (Giant Steps).
Personnel: Robert Prester: piano (1 – 5, 7 – 10), synthesizer (9); Nicky Orta: bass (1 – 5, 7 – 10); Ettienne Fuentes Jr.: drums (1 – 3, 5, 6, 8 – 10); Jack Chano: drums (4); Dave Schanzer: hand drums and percussion (2, 5 – 7, 9); Terezinha Valois: vocals (5, 7, 9); Jonathan Sigel: trumpet and flugelhorn (2, 5, 7, 9).