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Album Review

The fact that Anke Helfrich follows an ultra-fast, hell-bent-for-changes performance of Thelonious Monk's "I Mean You" with a mildly avant-garde, somewhat AACM-ish number like the brief "Miniatur: An-Ma-De" speaks well of the German acoustic pianist. It tells you that she was intent on bringing some variety to Better Times Ahead, which will not be accused of being one-dimensional. Actually, most of this 2005 date (which employs Martin Gjakonovski on upright bass, Dejan Terzic on drums, and special guest Roy Hargrove on trumpet and flugelhorn) is not avant-garde. There are some outside moments on "Miniatur: An-Ma-De" and the angular "Der Turm," but 90-percent of the time, Better Times Ahead is operating from a very straight-ahead post-bop/hard bop perspective, and Helfrich's inspirations are generally inside, non-avant-garde inspirations. Those inspirations range from Horace Silver to Thelonious Monk to Bill Evans; Helfrich's appreciation of Silver's funkiness is especially evident on "Movin' In" and the title track, while the Kurt Weill/Ira Gershwin standard "My Ship" is more Evans-minded. And the influence of Monk's quirky angularity asserts itself on "Der Turm," and two Monk warhorses ("Ask Me Now" and "I Mean You"). But being influenced by someone and going out of your way to sound like him/her are two different things; on Better Times Ahead, Helfrich acknowledges the people she admires without actually emulating them. Although not an innovator, Helfrich is her own person, and while this 51-minute CD falls short of excellent, it is a decent and worthwhile effort from the European improviser.

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