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Dave Easley, 'Jesus Maria'

The pedal steel is full of possibility. That's especially the case in the atmospheric music made by Chuck Johnson and Daniel Lanois, or the improvised explorations of Susan Alcorn. For decades, Dave Easley's been in the background, specifically with the much celebrated Brian Blade Fellowship, even as the jazz scene's reverence for his playing has loomed large.

Byway of the Moon, out next month, corrects Easley's scant discography as a bandleader with Catherine Pineda (Wurlitzer electric piano), Chad Taylor (drums) and Dave Tranchina (double bass). "Jesus Maria" simmers the regal, brass-forward Christmas carol composed by Carla Bley into a sunset. Easley is nimble on the strings and motors of his instrument, gliding, picking and ascending the melody with glowing pointillism. It's easy to float away in his glissando, but Easley returns to Earth just as Pineda takes a spirited piano solo warmed by the Wurlizter's hum and the rhythm section's spacious scene setting.

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