Jon Batiste brings the same vitality, imagination and a certain playfulness to Anatomy of Angels, that he displays weeknights as the leader of his house band, Stay Human, on the “Late Night with Stephen Colbert” television show. However, in this setting at New York’s renowned Village Vanguard, the pianist and composer applies those deeply rooted elements of his personality and talents to a straight-up jazz program.
There is never a dull moment with Batiste at the piano as he keeps changing the dynamics, going from quiet to ferocious, both within a single tune, and from selection to selection. The album opens with “Creative,” one of the disc’s three Batiste originals. Here the pianist is working with a trio that includes Stay Human drummer Joe Saylor and bassist Phil Kuehn. Touches of Batiste’s hometown of New Orleans infiltrate the tune that is elevated by the excellent sound of the recording. You are there with the obviously appreciative audience.
Batiste elaborates on the beautiful melody of Thelonious Monk’s—“my musical idol”—“Round Midnight,” and accents it with big left-handed chords as the ensemble expands with the addition of trumpeters Giveton Gelin and Jon Lampley, and saxophonists Tivon Pennicott and Patrick Bartley. The pianist takes it out with a Latin tinge.
An element of insistence prevails on the final title cut, with the rhythm section—piano, bass, drums, and percussionist Louis Cato—driving the horns to reach for the outer limits. Everyone then returns to the quietude of “home.” “Anatomy of Angels” is a stunning way to end a stimulating album.