OVER THE last five years, jazz pianist Don Pullen has proved that he's peer to Cecil Taylor and Abdullah Ibrahim (Dollar Brand). He's a little less percussively aggressive than Taylor, a little more bluesy and lyrical than Ibrahim and as intensely spiritual as both. "Evidence of Things Unseen" is solo piano at its most brilliant and expansive, its moods and textures encompassed by soft right-hand ripples and thunderous left-hand clusters, by exquisite melody lines and jarring dissonance.
There is an entrancing symmetry to all Pullen's improvisations: The title cut, which begins and ends with a haunting Gershwin-like lyricism, is full of restless and relentless invention, moods shifting fluidly and eloquently, always returning to the source. "In the Beginning" is symphonic, full of slaps and splashes and furious chordal attacks that virtually obliterate the concept of single notes.
Yet on "Victory Dance," Pullen builds on a vibrant little vamp and unveils an elegant elasticity of hands as he romps and rolls through a tune that would feel at home at a rent party. Likewise, "Perseverance" hints at sprightly stride and down-home blues underpinnings, while the all-too-brief "Rejoice" is a jaunty gospel exploration. Pullen's technique throughout is as immense as it is obvious, always redeemed by the richness of his invention. His 88 keys are bounded by heart and imagination.
Baritone saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett is a frequent Pullen collaborator, and his new album, "Ebu," also has its lyrical moments, mostly on a sensual title cut that suggests what Coleman Hawkins might have sounded like in the '80s. And while there are some vanguard (read dissonant and free-play) cuts, what stand out here are the two vamps: "New Bones," a jolly jumper reminiscent of Cannonball Adderley, d "Gumbo -- Vegetarian Style," Curtis Lundy's playful Kansas City- style riff on which Bluiett doubles on alto clarinet and pulls a few breathing tricks on a backing trio that includes the underrated pianist John Hicks. DON PULLEN -- "Evidence of Things Unseen" (Black Saint BSR0080). HAMIETT BLUIETT -- "Ebu" (Soul Note SN1088); the Don Pullen Quintet featuring Hamiett Bluiett appears Friday and Saturday at D.C. Space.