Russ Lossing

pianist . composer . improviser

Twice Reviews

All About Jazz

December 1, 2019

The Russ Lossing Trio should record more. Ways, which follows the excellent Oracle (hatOLOGY, 2011), is just the second recording this longstanding trio has released. More music from them would allow fans to study the development of the chemistry between Lossing, bassist Masa Kamaguchi, and drummer Billy Mintz.

The instantaneous telepathy between piano, bass, and drums is evidence of this chemistry. Where does it come from? While that question may never be answered, we do have proof of its existence in these eight compositions. During the first minute-and-a-half of the opener "Passageway," we hear Lossing solo, working somewhere between jazz and 21st-century classical music. There's not a hint of indecisiveness here. The question is which parts are composed and which improvised. When Kamaguchi enters it is with just one note, as he does often here. That one note and a Mintz' cymbal wash are the abbreviations or the maybe the most efficient manner of addressing Lossing's music. The music does eventually get busy, but always with that well-ordered distribution of notes.

That interchange between jazz and classical music is woven throughout, both painted with an improvisatory brush. "Breezeway" opens with Lossing plucking strings inside his piano before Kamaguchi enters into a conversation with Lossing. The music picks up momentum, crests, then the sound decays as it exits. While bass and drums are here to accent Lossing's piano, he does accord space for soloing. "Archway," which is segued into "Skyway," affords Kamaguchi center stage for a chest-resonating bass solo. His solo maintains the central themes of Lossing's trio. They create by exploiting the tension between the formal and the free, utilizing both a lyrical and angular attack. "Causeway" cannot decide whether it will be a Tin Pan Alley song covered by Thelonious Monk or a textured composition by Meredith Monk. As it progresses, so does its forcefulness. The trio has visited this land before, and is comfortable with its high winds. Lossing can create tension by commotion, but also from the silence of the space he leaves between notes.

-Mark Corroto

Point of Departure

Dec. 2019

On Ways, pianist Russ Lossing is joined by the rhythm section of bassist Masa Kamaguchi and drummer Billy Mintz. Heavyweights in their respective fields, Lossing, Kamaguchi, and Mintz have played together in numerous permutations, establishing a congenial sense of interplay. Drawn to the unique musical sensibility of Paul Motian, Lossing worked with the legendary drummer on a handful of albums, including As It Grows (hatOLOGY, 2004), and also paid tribute to the late artist (who died in 2011), with Drum Music: Music of Paul Motian (Sunnyside, 2012), a set of solo piano interpretations. Lossing's debt to Motian continues in this program of improvised pieces. All the compositions are based on open forms; sometimes the tunes are solemn and contemplative, other times brash and impassioned.

Lossing's unfettered improvisations comprise long-standing traditions and innovations of the avant-garde. With a catholic approach towards the vast history of the piano tradition, Lossing pairs a knotty right hand with a driving left, revealing a dark, modernist sensibility; everything from melancholy pointillism, spectral glissandi, and pulverizing clusters erupt from his keys. With virtuosic precision, he blazes a trail of dense chromatic voicings and sinuous lines that tumble forth with cascading intensity. Similarly, Kamaguchi's bold phrasing and robust tone is solidly omnipresent; his steady bass lines incorporate a range of techniques, from steely pizzicato to pulsating chords. A dynamic percussionist with a penchant for subtle accents, Mintz's ability to shade and color with crystalline clarity makes him a perfect accompanist in spare settings, but he can also swing with a vengeance, and there are several opportunities here for him to stretch out.

Transcending conventional notions of soloist and accompanist, the trio engages in three-way conversations that veer from impressionistic lyricism to visceral expressionism. Brimming with impetuous energy, the music transitions through different moods – from vibrant motifs and multi-hued ornaments to rippling passages and sudden shifts in tone. A freewheeling interpretation of a classic institution, Ways draws on a rich history, offering an expansive view of the contemporary jazz piano trio informed by the free jazz tradition.

–Troy Collins

New York City Jazz Record

January 2020

Russ Lossing is both a distinguished and a distinctive

pianist. He’s produced a series of CDs over the past 20

years in solo, duo and trio formats ranging from free

improvisation to standards to two CDs dedicated to the

compositions of the late Paul Motian, both a mentor and

a collaborator. To all Lossing brings a forcefully linear

conception fusing a keen sense of space with intense

momentum. On Ways, he plays with his trio of bassist

Masa Kamaguchi and drummer Billy Mintz, previously

heard on Oracle (2008) and Motian Music (2017).

Each of Ways’ eight pieces is entitled by a word

including “way”, suggesting perhaps something of the

Tao, though the playfulness that extends the compound

titles includes “Breezeway”, itself suggestive of the

late John Ashbery’s 2015 collection of characteristically

mysterious, elliptical poems, at once plain-spoken,

pithy and unknowable. There’s something of that, too,

in the philosophical influence of John Cage on Lossing’s

work. It’s music that’s both intensely alive in the

instant and open to extended reflection.

The opening “Passageway” begins in a pressing

piano improvisation in which rapid, single-note lines

press upward, coil and press again. That intensity is

matched again and again in collaboration with his

partners. Kamaguchi is a fierce melodist who can impact

the music with one note that’s a miracle of coiled energy

while Mintz can move from subtle polyrhythmic chatter

to an explosion. “Causeway”, the title itself a fine

ambiguity, moves from near-serial keyboard abstraction

to dissonant clusters to collective improvisation

highlighted by swarming chromatic piano runs.

Ways is virtually a continuous hour-long suite,

segments sometimes separated by the briefest silence,

sometimes by nothing at all. Densities shift and

passions arise and ebb within a single episode.

“Passageway” ends with Mintz playing quietly,

disappearing into a silence broken an instant later by

Lossing in the piano interior at the same volume level.

The brief fifth track, “Skyway”, is an unaccompanied

bass solo introducing the trio’s “Byway”. The piano

solo “Away” disappears into brief nothingness only to

become the concluding “Way”. It’s a thoughtful,

compelling work, which expands with each hearing.

-Stuart Broomer

New York City Jazz Record -  November 2021


Russ Lossing/Gerry Hemingway (Aqua Piazza)

by Ken Dryden

Russ Lossing is a pianist who covers a wide spectrum of jazz styles, equally at home in mainstream and avant garde jazz. A 2014 studio meeting with drummer Gerry Hemingway produced Twice, a stunning album of free improvisations, where the players seem to be of one mind. Lossing's manipulation of the piano strings, whether by hand-muting as he plays a chord or strumming them, creates moody, striking textures while Hemingway's deft use of his drumkit adds to the tension, especially his fascinating cymbal work. The opening track, "Yellow Light", has many twists and uses space effectively, making it perfect for a soundtrack to a suspense film. In "Keeping Still" some of Hemingway's percussive effects are reminiscent of those used by avant garde classical composer Edgard Varse in "Ionization", ominous gong-like sounds drawn from his cymbals, blending with mysterious piano. The centerpiece of the threatening "In What Is Small (For John Cage)" is the recurring vocal-like sounds by Hemingway, which could include him drumming on his cheeks with his mouth open, though only he and Lossing know for sure. The piano introduction to "Earth Mother" is the closest thing to music that sounds composed, with jagged lines that seem inspired by Igor Stravinsky's early 20th Century ballets while the Russian composer's influence is also heard in the rapid piano finale to "Water Above And Below". The music within this duo date is not for casual listening. It demands full attention without any distractions, likely the requirements for Lossing and Hemingway to create this stimulating music.