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Okonski brings a late-night chill to modern jazz piano

Pianist Steve Okonski finds late night atmosphere on his debut trio album Magnolia.
Don Panicko
Pavement PR
Pianist Steve Okonski finds late night atmosphere on his debut trio album Magnolia.

The sounds from Loveland, Ohio's Colemine Records have been deeply soulful since its beginnings in 2007. Pianist Steve Okonski has been part of that sound, working since 2017 with the soul band Durand Jones & the Indications. But his new trio album for the label, Magnolia, takes its inspiration from the jazz tradition.

Okonski planned the album's music with his Indications bandmates Michael "Ish" Montgomery and Aaron Frazer on bass and drums, but improvisation formed the bulk of this brief trio debut.

Colemine Records owner Terry Cole, acting as producer for the album, asked the band to turn out the lights and improvise in their second recording session. That forced improvisational setting created the communication between bandmates that brings life to jazz.

With Okonski's piano as the focus, the music is meditative and intentional. Montgomery and Frazer bring a very subtle groove to each song, adding color by responding to the music and each other's playing. The overarching vibe is a late-night chill, the sound of walking home through empty city streets at four in the morning.

At times the album's piano melodies recall the classical elements of Okonski's musical roots. An example is the lead track "Runner Up," where the mellow opening features stately chords with an echo effect that puts the piano in a concert hall setting.

Bringing in the bass and drums, the song's tempo stays slow, but the minimal rhythm suggests enough soul to get your head nodding along.

Other songs on Magnolia pick up the tempo slightly, developing an easy-going hip-hop swagger on the single "Dark Moon" after an intro as cold as outer space.

At a brief 29-minute running time, the listener may be left wanting more from Magnolia. A repeated spin will have to do until the trio reunites for a follow-up album that Okonski says is in the planning stages.

He's also expressed interest in touring for this album, but Okonski remains a busy member of the Indications. Stay connected to the New Cool for the details.

The New Cool airs Fridays at 9 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Washington. LISTEN ON DEMAND

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Abe grew up in Western Washington, a third generation Seattle/Tacoma kid. It was as a student at Pacific Lutheran University that Abe landed his first job at KNKX, editing and producing audio for news stories. It was a Christmas Day shift no one else wanted that gave Abe his first on-air experience which led to overnights, then Saturday afternoons, and started hosting Evening Jazz in 1998.