Jon Batiste was a highly regarded but not especially famous jazz pianist when he first recorded a tune called “Creative,” on his 2013 album Jazz is Now.
The song, a gear-shifting original that neatly communicates Batiste’s reverence for Thelonious Monk, opened the album as if in the middle of a sentence; its melody begins on the first downbeat, like Monk’s “Evidence,” and Batiste makes the most of his flinty attack at the keys. Swinging brightly behind him are a couple of colleagues from Juilliard, drummer Joe Saylor and bassist Phil Kuehn.
Some things haven’t changed since then, and other things have changed quite a bit. To go with the most obvious: Batiste is now a highly regarded and extremely famous jazz pianist, thanks to his post as bandleader and musical director on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. He’s also widely known as a singer; it’s a big part of his presentation as an artist, and figured prominently on Hollywood Africans, the album he released last year.
Batiste’s next album will be titled Anatomy of Angels: Live at the Village Vanguard, and released on Verve three weeks from today, on Aug. 2. It opens with another version of “Creative,” also featuring Kuehn and Saylor.
Set at the same tempo as the studio version, it has a similar toggle between ringing gospel and cool impressionism. But Batiste and his band mates have strengthened and deepened their rapport, pushing this version well above the 2013 recording. The audience would surely agree; listen for one woman’s “Yeah!” just before the one-minute mark, after Batiste opens a soulful new lane in the song.
As the title makes clear, Anatomy of Angels was recorded at the Village Vanguard, putting Batiste in the company of elite pianists both past and present. This was during his 2018 engagement at the club, which began the day before Halloween and ended one week before his 32nd birthday.
The album features a couple more Batiste originals (“Dusk Train To Doha”; the title track) along with an iconic Monk ballad (“‘Round Midnight,” with trumpeters Giveton Gelin and Jon Lampley, and saxophonists Tivon Pennicott and Patrick Bartley) and a songbook standard (“The Very Thought Of You,” with guest vocals by Rachael Price of Lake Street Dive).
It wouldn’t be precisely right to call this a more outright jazz-inflected album than Batiste’s other recent output — but it wouldn’t be precisely wrong, either. “The music on this release is all live, no edits or retakes,” he says in a press statement. “It’s a snapshot of live art. I composed and arranged these songs as vehicles for exploration, to be dissected and put back together, live in action, never to be played the same way twice.”
Anatomy of Angels: Live at the Village Vanguard is due out on Verve on Aug. 2; preorder here.