By calling his latest album Martingale, veteran pianist and hyperpianist Denman Maroney is pretty much daring the adventurous listener to take a gamble on the offbeat, angular, hypnotic, often strange but mostly intoxicating vibes he cooks up with his dynamic quartet of Steven Frieder (reeds), Ratzo Harris (bass) and Bob Meyer (drums and cymbals). As you journey from the gently seductive, trippy and ambient title track opener through the lyrical, polyrhythmic endgame of “Sea Salt Sank,” you can also absorb a cool illuminating (and obscure) history lesson.
See, a martingale is a popular 18th century French betting strategy, in which the gamble doubles the stakes every round in the hopes of surviving even the longest of losing streaks. Essentially, Maroney is asking you to invest in the ensemble’s offbeat vision – and if you do, the outside the box free jazz rewards are plentiful.
When they’re quoting John Cage in the press materials, you know your ears must be attuned to something truly out there. Cage once said that time is the most important parameter in music, and all the tracks on Martingale – 10 crafty originals and the playfully soulful “Off Centerpiece,” a spirited twist on Harry Edison and Jon Hendricks’ “Centerpiece” – reflect Maroney’s interest in temporal harmony, meaning relative layers of time.
You can appreciate this collection on two levels. First there’s the aural enjoyment of speeding from joyful frolic (“Blind Love” to eerie melancholy (“Primal Sympathy”) and occasional cacophonous chaos (a few minutes into “Sea Set Wheat”). Then there’s the technical appreciation for the different levels of layering involved; some songs have two layers, others three, and still others four and six.
Then there are four tracks featuring rhythmic palindromes, aka “non-retrogradable rhythms.” On two of the most intriguing, multi-mood swinging pieces, “Time’s Out” and “Sea Set Wheat,” Maroney shares his hyperpiano mastery, which finds him expanding his sonic palette by playing the keys with one hands and the strings with the other using steel cylinders, copper bars, rubber blocks and – finding modern use for – plastic CD and cassette cases.