When musical cultures collide

Pianist Deutsch draws freely from circle of collaborators on ‘Hush Money’

By Andrew Gilbert
Globe Correspondent / November 29, 2009

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Pianist Erik Deutsch came of age in the wide-open spaces of Colorado, and his music still carries unmistakable traces of the alpine air and sweeping CinemaScope views. But the band he brings to Boston Tuesday evokes the Rockies refracted through the urban grit of Brooklyn.

A versatile sideman eagerly sought by an array of singer-songwriters - including Erin McKeown, Norah Jones, and Kristina Train - Deutsch is best known for his two-year stint with groovaholic seven-string guitarist Charlie Hunter. In many ways, Deutsch’s new album, “Hush Money,’’ is a meeting of musical cultures, a lushly orchestrated session featuring his lovingly layered keyboard work punctuated by telegraphic guitar riffs and insistently pulsing horns.

“In my 20s, I focused a lot on harmony and lyricism and learning how to tell a story with a solo and a melody studying with Art Lande,’’ says Deutsch, 33, referring to the pianist, composer, and educator whose crystalline sound and idiosyncratic improvisational approach found an early home on the German label ECM. Deutsch still performs occasionally in the piano trio Triangle with Lande on drums.

“Charlie knows everything about harmony too, but he’s centered around rhythm and blues,’’ Deutsch continues by phone from his home in Brooklyn. “ ‘Hush Money’ takes that big sky sound and lush lyricism and combines it with this influence from Charlie, not being afraid to just go in there and play.’’

Deutsch first gained attention in the mid-1990s as a cofounder of Fat Mama, a jam band from Boulder, Colo., that performed often around New England featuring Benevento/Russo drummer Joe Russo. He came into his own as a composer with another Boulder combo, County Road X, which brought a cinematic sensibility to various strains of jazz and Americana.

“Fat Mama was aggressive and rocking, and we had a lot of young attitude,’’ Deutsch says. “County Road X was a reaction in a way. I had the pedal steel and cello and accordion, and I played piano throughout the first record. It was a big sky, landscape band with a dreamy Americana sound, and it was my chance to start feeling out a compositional style and expanding my palette.’’

A key member of the thriving Boulder scene, Deutsch forged ties with trumpeter Ron Miles, and the bands Devotchka and the Motet. Like many of his Colorado comrades, he made the move to New York City several years ago and quickly found a new circle of collaborators.

Deutsch documented the convergence of his established and new-found friends on his 2007 debut album “Fingerprint’’ featuring Ron Miles, violinist Jenny Scheinman, bassist Todd Sickafoose, and drummer Allison Miller, an impressive acoustic session showcasing his piano work and knack for writing shapely melodies.

“It’s exciting when you come here, because there are so many killer musicians,’’ Deutsch says. “You meet new ones all the time, friends of friends, and I want to play with everyone. I made ‘Fingerprint’ with that awesome band in the studio, but we never played again. It wasn’t possible to get everyone together again.’’

“Hush Money’’ is a very different kind of project. A working band based on longtime relationships, the sextet features Deutsch’s childhood friend Jonti Siman on bass, Colorado chums Jon Goldberger on guitar and Marc Dalio on drums, early New York associate Mike McGinnis on reeds, and bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck, a more recent connection. Ace trombonist Alex Heitlinger, a Boulder buddy doing graduate studies at New England Conservatory, replaces Schoenbeck for Tuesday’s show at the Beehive, which is a double bill with resourceful Boston saxophonist and promoter Daniel Bennett.

The music is built on Deutsch’s fascination with vintage keyboards (he owns a Moog, ARP Omni, and Casiotones), and the payoff of “Hush Money’’ often flows from the artful way he weaves together lines generated by the various instruments. While sonic resourcefulness earned him a spot as Charlie Hunter’s first keyboardist, Deutsch ended up flourishing in the trio because he quickly assimilated the guitarist’s earthy feel.

“We put Erik through the ringer,’’ Hunter says. “He’s a really talented jazz piano player with all that soundscapy stuff, but he always felt he couldn’t play the blues. We just beat it into him, and now he’s coming out like Mean Joe Greene every night.’’


Tuesday at 8 p.m. No cover, 617-423-0069 or

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