Featured Artist: Francesca Tanksley
CD Title: Journey Year: 2002 Record Label: DreamCaller
Style: Straight-Ahead / Classic

Musicians: Francesca Tanksley (piano), Clarence Seay (bass), Newman Taylor Baker (drums).

Review: Francesca Tanksley has held down the piano chair in the Billy Harper Quintet for 15 years. None of the exquisite playing glimpsed in that format prepares for the power unleashed on this breathtaking self-produced work. This is mesmerizing, captivating and monumental music. Joined by drummer Newman Taylor Baker and bassist Clarence Seay, mates from the Harper group, the pianist assays a far reaching and emotionally draining program that is as full of surprising changes as it is of breathtaking performance. A lush and powerful pianist who frequently reminds of McCoy Tyner, she is decidedly a musician who owes allegiance to none but her own muse. This is a brilliant, commanding and original artist. Her domination of the instrument is apparent from the opening notes of “Into the Light,” a sprightly Latin-tinged composition for two very busy hands. “Trickster,” on which Baker shines, is a quick-paced piece on which Tanksley dances with varying tempos. Even on the beautifully contemplative “Simple Heart” there is an obvious power in her approach, a wellspring of emotion from which she draws repeatedly and unendingly. “Journey Without Distance,” on which the Tyner comparisons might best be drawn, not only shines light on her performing proficiency, but as notably on her compositional skills. Seay is heard to fine effect here, as well. “Prayer” features an amazing guest vocalist in Judy Bady, who has also worked with Harper in the past, as well as with Jon Hendricks. Her approach is somewhere between Abby Lincoln and Leon Thomas and just as powerful as either. On the closing “Never Defeated,” the Tanksley trio delivers an elegant and mid-tempo number that again evinces shades of mid-70s Tyner while retaining an originality that sets it apart. Released in 2002, this is one of the most dynamic collections of piano jazz released in years.

Reviewed by: Mark E. Gallo

October 2003

FRANCESCA TANKSLEY: Journey DreamCaller Productions, 2002

Taking center stage for the first time on Journey, Francesca Tanksley shows herself worthy of the spotlight, both as a composer and a pianist. Performing for over 15 years with the Billy Harper Quintet gave her the tools and perhaps the confidence to make this leap. It also provided her with some fabulous band-mates in bassist Clarence Seay and drummer Newman Taylor Baker.

Tanksley’s Journey starts with a couple of kicking tunes in “Into the Light” and “Dance in the Question,” both of which showcase the trio’s collective chops and the fact that they are way locked in, giving each other room to breathe and support to shine. The titles really speak volumes about the pieces themselves, as “In Grace” and “Simple Heart” take things down a few notches, allowing the trio’s tender side to come out in all its marvelously understated glory. As with most great love songs, it’s hard to tell whether the heartstrings being plucked are of a romantic or spiritual nature. Jump to the other little ditties such as “Trickster” and “Journey Without Distance,” and you can likely guess what you’re in for. On “Trickster,” for instance, Tanksley once again sets her solo artist ego aside and lets her players step out one at a time with a mischievous, playful bounce.

-- Kelly McCartney

****************************** JazzHot n°602 Juillet-Aout 2003 p56 ********************************************
Francesca Tanksley Journey tnto the Light, Dance in the Question, in Grace, Trickster, Simple Heart, Journey Without Distance, Earnestly Tenderly, Prayer*, Never Defeated
Francesca Tanksley (p), Clarence Seay (b), Newman Taylor Baker (dm) + Judy Bady (voc)*
Enregistré les 20-21 août 2001, New York Durée: 54'2l

DreamCaller 7168 (Tél. + 1 315 287 852)
Il y a malheureusement à parier que Francesca Tanksley sera une découverte pour la plupart de nos lecteurs. Cette new-yorkaise a pourtant joué avec Robin Eubanks et Steve Turre, Howard Johnson, Erica Lindsay, Tony Reedus, Chamett Moffett, Slide Hampton, Eddie Henderson. Mais elle est surtout connue, comme ses complices, pour sa collaboration depuis douze ans avec Billy Harper.
Elle impose ici un style de grande envergure qui s'inscrit dans la continuité de McCoy Tyner ("Into the Light"), de Stanley Cowell ("Trick- ster"), JoAnne Brackeen, et John Hicks par sa puissance orchestrale et son raffinement harmonique. Le romantisme de Bill Evans ne lui est pas étranger (" Simple Heart ", " Earnestly... "). Elle passe volontiers d'une profondeur mélancolique très touchante (" In Grace " et " Earnestly, Tenderly ") à des tourbillons hypnotiques musclés ("Journey... ", " Never Defeated "). < Dance in the Question " (souvent interprétée par Billy Harper) est l'une de ses plus belles compositions - et comme tous les morceaux sont dus à sa plume et génèrent des ambiances très particu- lières, on se dit que le jazz possède encore décidément de nombreuses voix inexplorées. La rythmique, un brin hiératique, possède te poids qu'on lui connaît auprès de Billy Harper, avec un Clarence Seay dans l'esprit de Reggie Workman et Jimmy Garrison, et un Newman Taylor Baker dans le sillage d'Elvin Jones et Billy Hart. Cerise sur le gâteau, " Prayer " est une incantation gospel où Judy Bady est d'une autorité émouvante.
Francesca Tanksley possède une grâce et une poigne qui sont le signe d’une styliste déterminée comme on en rencontre peu.
Jean Szlamowicz

O's Place Jazz Newsletter
Tanksley, Francesca Label: DreamCaller Journey
Performance: 4-
Sound: 4
O's Notes: Francesca is the regular pianist for the Billy Harper Quintet. Journey is her gig complete with nine of her own compositions. Bassist Clarence Seay and Newman Taylor Baker (d) also from Harper's Quintet round out this trio. Tanksley displays a range of dimensions: frolicking playfully to relaxing peacefully on ballads. There is also an excellent vocal performance from Judy Bady on Prayer . Overall this is a nice effort.


June 2003

Journey -- Francesca Tanksley (DreamCaller)
by Terrell Holmes

After years of playing as an acclaimed side musician and being a mainstay in the Billy Harper Quintet, pianist Francesca Tanksley has debuted with Journey. Joining her on this trio set are her fellow rhythm section players from Harper’s quintet, bassist Clarence Seay and drummer Newman Taylor Baker.

All of the songs on Journey are her originals, composed over a 12-year period. The opening tune, “Into the Light”, is a bright, mid-to-uptempo tune in which Tanksley displays a lithe and active left hand. “Dance In the Question” opens with a short statement by Baker, then launches into shifting rhythms, a staple of her composing. Tanksley and Seay play the theme in unison as Baker takes a brief, percolating solo. “In Grace” is a beautiful ballad that features Baker with brushes at the beginning. Tanksley paints her portrait on a spare, uncluttered canvas. Seay takes an understated but eloquent solo in the middle as Baker and Tanksley build a frame around him. Her playing has some nice moments of introspection and interior dialogue.
“Trickster” opens with a drum statement and as its title implies, the song is a mischievous burner of shifting time signatures. “Simple Heart”, a tender ballad, opens up with a wonderfully constructed statement by Tanksley, followed by a simultaneous piano/bass descent along the scales. On “Journey Without Distance” Tanksley plays swirling cascades of notes. After a furious, passionate turn – arguably her most stirring playing on the disc – Seay elbows his way to the fore and delivers a sprightly solo as Baker whispers behind him. The closer, “Never Defeated”, finds Tanksley weaving more of her rapid-fire keyboard embroidery to Seay and Baker’s ample support.
Tanksley is reminiscent of McCoy Tyner, in terms of style and execution. While her left hand holds the forts, the right goes off on studied but elegant flights. The meshing of the trio is almost telepathic at times. Clearly, the trio’s shared tenure with Harper’s group has had an effect on Tanksley’s composing; they know each other’s moves, so to speak, and that empathy has been factored into her songs. After this strong debut, as well as her recent performance as part of the Lost Jazz Shries series at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center, we can only hope that Ms. Tanksley doesn’t wait as long next time to give us more great music.

June 13, 2003
Excerpted from:
“8 On 88: New Releases in the Piano Trio Format”
By Chris Hovan
Going back for decades, the piano trio remains one of the most vital formats in the jazz idiom. Part of this is due to the fact that this ensemble in the right hands can explore a variety of textures at any one time, ranging from a soft whisper to the roar of a big band. Of course, familiarity can breed contempt and not just anyone can pull it off with élan. But in surveying recent piano trio efforts, the following discs are deemed as having special merit in that while each one taps different stylistic zones, each is true to its own creative muse and thus worthy of our attention.…

…From the first few moments of “Into the Light,” it’s apparent that Francesca Tanksley’s stylistic jumping off point is the kind of modal jazz that McCoy Tyner championed while with John Coltrane in the ’60s and on scores of sessions as a sideman for Blue Note. This is not to say that Tanksley has simply aped that groove and claimed it as her own, it simply serves as a guidepost for suggesting influences. The album Journey (DreamCaller 7168) thus serves as a fine debut for a pianist who has been an integral part of Billy Harper’s ensembles for many years now. In fact, her rhythm mates in the Harper band are on hand here too - bassist Clarence Seay and drummer Newman Taylor Baker - and the chemistry of this threesome is nothing short of telepathic. Miss Tanksley pens all the pieces and even the fast paced numbers speak with a sense of romantic melancholy that is deeply felt. It might have been a long time coming, but this maiden voyage presents a wholly formed artist who is clearly deserving of wider recognition.

Link to whole article on allaboutjazz.com

All Music Guide
April 2003
This 2003 release signifies New York City-based pianist/composer Francesca Tanksley's inaugural solo effort. She's been performing with modern jazz saxophonist Billy Harper for a number of years amid stints with trombonist Slide Hampton and others. Here, she performs alongside fellow “Billy Harper Quintet” band-mates, bassist Clarence Penn and drummer Newman Taylor Baker. A surprising debut indeed, as Ms Tanksley's strong sense of swing is tempered by her penchant for altering the various rhythmic interludes with lush harmonics and wistful melodies. And the trio's synergy comes to fruition from the onset. The pianist often delves deep into these various frameworks to complement a series of lightly crashing cadenzas. Tanksley's fluent right hand, single note lines are nicely augmented by her rhythmically oriented block chords. The pianist's compositions are marked by climactic episodes, where she tinkers with the primary melodies, as a means for extended improvisational forays. Moreover, guest vocalist Judy Brady lends here wares for the emotively constructed work titled, “Prayer.” Overall, this CD should accelerate Ms Tanksley's stature within modern jazz circles.

&Mac220; Glenn Astarita


"The music on these three recordings is informed, but not imprisoned, by its influences. Each of the leaders clearly has learned much from select models, and each has also moved well beyond mimicry and toward achieving a distinctive voice…

With her fancy for rolling octave tremolos, insistent pedal points and long pentatonic lines, Francesca Tanksley shows a clear predilection for the work of Mccoy Tyner. Certainly that's what makes her an appropriate accompanist for tenor saxophonist Billy Harper who has shaped his own distinctive sound from his study of Tyner's mentor, John Coltrane. A glance at the titles shows that Tanksley, like Tyner, also has a spiritual dimension to her work. She gives full expression to this aspect of her aesthetic on the aptly named "Prayer", featuring the rich alto of Judy Bady whose single appearance makes me wish for more. The rest of the session is devoted to her compositions, all of which prove appropriate vehicles for her piano work with the line between preconceived material and improvisation very thin. The ballads "Earnestly, Tenderly" and "In Grace" demonstrate a gentle eloquence that contrasts with the pulsating quality of the other material. The leader wisely draws on the talents of her regular Harper section-mates bassist Seay and drummer Baker, for support. They sound very much like a working unit rather than a pickup band. A fine debut." - DAVID DUPONT


Pianist Francesca Tanksley has long captured the respect of musicians and audiences not only in the United States, but also worldwide, as an integral member for many years of the dynamic quintet of saxophonist Billy Harper.
Her career has expanded to include more of her own trio work, with stirring live appearances as well as this CD debut as a leader, Journey (Dreamcaller 7168). It features her arresting original compositions, accompanied by superb bassist Clarence Seay and propulsive drummer Newman Baker, both also in the Harper band. Throughout the recording, one also appreciates the way her sensitive, well modulated comping behind these two players, enhances without detracting from the soloist.
Tanksley’s playing, as well as writing, has an engaging appeal based on an impressive matching of warm and cool. Her consistently swinging attack and warm, bright touch that is firm, but always melodic, effectively balances her moving intensity, with a well-structured and often contemplative approach. It reflects traces of her acknowledged influences - McCoy Tyner, Wynton Kelly and Bill Evans; but has an individualism that is also demonstrated in the uplifting thrust of her various compositions. While each is unique in melody, tempo and chord structure, they share a common effervescent feel, with very appropriate titles, such as "Into The Light", "In Grace", "Earnestly, Tenderly", "Never Defeated" and the beautiful "Prayer", inspirationally sung by guest vocalist, Judy Bady. Above all else, the CD reflects a strikingly mature artist who has successfully integrated a spiritually exhilarating approach to music with an intelligent, well crafted command of her instrument, in conjunction with the trio as a whole. ~ Tom Pierce

SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS February 14, 2003 eye Recordings

Pianist Francesca Tanksley and her trio are among the jazz world’s best-kept secrets. A working unit for 20 years, they’ve been "hidden" inside the quintet of the remarkable tenor saxophonist Billy Harper. Here the trio steps out on its own, and, lo and behold, it turns out that a second, terrific band was growing all the while inside the larger one.

On "Journey," Tanksley’s first recording, she leads bassist Clarence Seay and drummer Newman Taylor Baker through a program that includes midnight ballads and modal workouts. It’s music that moves from the serene to the furious and culminates with "Prayer," a modern jazz spiritual of almost painful intensity, sung by guest Judy Bady.

The nine compositions are all Tanksley’s, the performances full of fine detail: Baker’s feather-like touch to his cymbals, which sing and sizzle; Seay’s deep-down bass lines, which buoy the band. And Tanklsey is such a deep, grounded player; she knows exactly what she’s up to, doesn’t reach for effect. One could say that she incorporates some of the harmonic influences of Bill Evans, and can build rhythmic and emotional intensity like McCoy Tyner. But, really, she’s way beyond influences. Her playing is fluid and full of moments of discovery. You can hear it, as she finds and then explores a beautiful bit of melody in the middle of a solo.

There’s not a phony or forced note in the set. In fact, "Journey" improves with each listening. The music grows clearer as the listener grows familiar with all the nooks and crannies of this trio’s musical world. - Richard Scheinin

The Wire December 2002

Italy-born, Germany brought-up and New York-based, Francesca Tanksley’s journey is more than spiritual rhetoric. But she arrived some time ago, and has been the pianist with Billy Harper’s quartet since the early 80s. Her rhythm section colleagues from that group – bassist Clarence Seay and drummer Newman Taylor Baker – join her here. While the album’s nine originals were composed over the last decade or so, stylistically they stretch back further; point of departure for both Tanksley’s playing and writing is McCoy Tyner’s 70s work, those Milestone albums where latinate leadsheets are torn up with velocitous zeal. This group breathes in as well as bellowing out, and performances are formed and re-formed accordingly. In the same way Tanksley often changes her own direction, suddenly smudging and overcasting angled pentatonic lines with big cloudy tremolos. The trio is joined by vocalist Judy Bady on one track: Bady’s depth of tone and projection is pretty close to Billy Harper’s saxophone, and the group are as comfortable with it as they should be. - Tom Perchard

The Berkshire Eagle February 7, 2003 The Beat

Claiming the Spotlight
By Seth Rogovoy Special to The Eagle

… Beautifully melodic yet full of surprising twists and turns, Journey fuses mainstream, straight-ahead values like melody and swing with an original character. She attacks "Into the Light," which opens the recording in a burst of free-form swing, with a forceful dynamism that has garnered her comparisons to McCoy Tyner. Funky modulations spirit "Dance in the Question" along, while "Simple Heart" mines a bluesy modality.

For all the beauty and intrigue of Tanksley’s playing it’s easy to overlook the contributions of bassist Clarence Seay and drummer Newman Taylor Baker. The players are telepathically sympathetic, with Seay’s bass gingerly dancing through Tanksley’s delicate latticework on "In Grace," and Baker’s accents highlighting the twists and turns of her acrobatic, bebop lines on "Trickster." …

Register-Star February 14, 2003 Arts
Tanksley Trio brings brilliant jazz to music center
By John Paul Keeler For Hudson Valley Newspapers

… This jazz concert was brilliant. Tanksley, at the piano, brought fluidity, exciting thrust, and rhythmic authority … the mix of calculated musicianship and bold improvisation was the binding force for this trio’s artistry.

Tanksley’s compositions were a delight. Full of verve, humor and poignancy, they covered the full gambit of what jazz is all about: "Trickster," with surging rhythmic energy, and others, such as "Prayer," projecting serene spirituality.

Tanksley’s colleague musicians, bassist Clarence Seay and Newman Taylor Baker on the drums, along with Tanksley, brought perfect ensemble to the music making. Seay made his instrument purr and snap and sing in Tanksley’s piece, "Prayer." Baker pulled out expertly every aspect of the drummer’s art. The intensity of his playing projected one back to Biblical days; by turns, his playing was also lyric and tender. …

The New Music Box
The Web Magazine from the American Music Center Issue 46 - Vol.4, No.10 SoundTracks: February 2003

… Pianist Francesca Tanksley performs her original tunes: each song has a distinct personality, which the tight-knit trio acutely taps into. Whether it’s a shimmering tremolo or a metric shift in rhythmic feel, Tanksley seems to have a knack for adding just the right elegant touch to her well-crafted songs.

Randy Nordschow