Magnolia (Okonski) – music review

Magnolia, the debut album from jazz trio Okonski, uses a simple formula: piano, bass, and drums. But simplicity can be deceptive, and Magnolia manages to cover a lot of musical and emotional ground over its seven tracks. Bandleader Steve Okonski’s piano work is the primary focus conjures a range of moods and styles, but “meditative” is the one that probably best describes the overall vibe. These aren’t flashy showcases of technical skill (though there’s plenty of both technique and skill on display); they’re impressionistic, more about exploration and feeling than getting into a specific groove.

Okonski couldn’t have put together a better group to lead into these late-night mood pieces. Recorded at Colemine Records’ Tupelo House studio, most of the album comes from a June 2021 session, with one track (album closer “Sunday”) from a November 2020 session. Joining on drums is Aaron Frazer, who Okonski also plays with in Colemine label-mates Durand Jones & The Indications. Frazer’s playing is restrained throughout the proceedings, with the notable exception of side one closer “Dark Moon,” where he adds some heft by dropping in a hip hop-influenced beat at just the right moment. Bass duties are admirably handled by Michael Isvara “Ish” Montgomery, who like Frazer lets Okonski take center stage. At times his playing provides a solid foundation for Okonski’s more lyrical improvisations, while at others Okonski’s chord progressions allow the two to play off each other in creative ways.

Magnolia’s biggest charm is its timelessness; whether it was recorded in 1951, 1971, or 2021, its appeal would remain the same. Good music is able to capture special moments while also transcending the times it was made in. Magnolia is good music.

Simon Workman
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