Israeli-born pianist Ehud Asherie‘s latest Posi-Tone release (his fourth) is a collection of standards arranged for piano and tenor saxophone, the latter instrument played by Harry Allen, who previously worked with Asherie on 2010′s Modern Life, a quartet album that also featured bassist Joel Forbes and drummer Chuck Riggs. That disc was recorded in June of 2009, and ended with a duo rendition of Billy Strayhorn‘s “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing”; this disc, possibly inspired by that performance, was recorded in October 2009.
Upper West Side is an extremely conservative, genteel album; it would sound perfect playing in the background of a Whit Stillmanmovie. Asherie’s piano playing is very much in a stride style, reminiscent of Fats Waller, Willie “The Lion” Smith and other figures of similar vintage. Allen’s saxophone sound meshes perfectly with this old-style approach, flowing thick and romantic like Ben Webster, Lester Young or Coleman Hawkins. Everything is very well played, and the album glides smoothly from one appealing, familiar standard to the next—”It Had to Be You,” “I’m in the Mood for Love,” “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams,” “Our Love is Here to Stay”…it’s dinner music, basically. Which is fine. Every jazz album doesn’t have to be a tiny revolution. But from a player as young as Asherie (he was born in 1979), this insistence on wearing his grandfather’s clothes, so to speak, is a little disconcerting. It starts to make you wonder if he listens to any new music, or if he has any interest in jazz of the post-swing era. Perhaps he should record something a little more out next time, if only to avoid being pigeonholed as “that old-timey guy.”