Bill Heller – Find the Way*

July 15, 2014

Calling on his fellow Rippingtons cohorts saxmen Jeff Kashiwa and Eric Marienthal, bassist Rico Belled, and drummer Dave Karasony to help out, keyboardist Bill Heller has decided to take a moment from his incredible service to others to create a handsome keys/piano-strong project called Find the Way.Bill Heller

Besides being a remarkable mainstay in Russ Freeman’s longstanding band of considerable note, Heller has achieved much to call attention to himself, despite probably not seeking that attention. His college sweetheart and, later, wife Dawn had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2000 (she has since been declared cancer-free). During that time, Heller co-wrote and produced a CD dedicated to her called Strong Woman from which they donated a good portion of the proceeds to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund.

The pianist/keyboardist has also enjoyed the opportunity of playing live with Mary Wilson and the Supremes. Mary was appointed by the U.S. State Department as a Culture Connect Ambassador, a position that allows for travel overseas, interacting with youth by running clinics, performing in concerts, motivating through speeches, teaching master classes, and more. Heller traveled with Mary as her accompanist to Bangladesh, Oman, Pakistan, and Africa. Quite an experience, no doubt.

Now taking that moment to unleash his own creation, he steps forward with a release that’s quite diverse in style and proceeds to display his talent in capturing the various facets of jazz (and some World elements) from the up-tempo coolness of Vince Guaraldi (“Guaraldi”), to some stepped-up bluesy jazz (“Down & Loaded”) to some swingin’ bop (“Bill’s Bop”) to the charming and clean contemporary feel of the title track to the fusion-laced “Hanna” to the exoticism of the beckoning Latin flair found in “Latinesque,” and the World/fusion sweetness of “Afrikaan,” and beyond. This is an impressive look at jazz as a consummate living art form.

If you’re looking for your average smooth jazz project, this may not be the CD for you. However, if you appreciate the full richness and reach of jazz as a whole, along with enticing World elements, Heller’s expression of all of these is impactful and dynamic enough to capture your fancy. If you’ve ever wondered about just how far jazz can go and how encompassing it can be, Heller helps you as much as anyone in envisioning all of that and then some. – Ronald Jackson

* Another of our A Slight Smooth Jazz Detour discoveries