Taylor Eigsti returned to a sold-out Nichols Hall auditorium on Sept. 28 to kick off the third season of the Harker Concert Series. Performing to a very enthusiastic crowd, the 27-year-old jazz piano phenom again dazzled an audience made up of everyone from budding jazz fans to longtime aficionados.
The slow, lilting chords of Eigsti’s version of the jazz standard “Cheryl” coursed through the auditorium as the show began, expertly punctuated by veteran drummer Jason Lewis’ light cymbal hits. The trio soon brought up the volume, with Eigsti bassist John Shifflett playing in fast, tight harmony. Never one to chew up scenery, Eigsti gave Shifflett and Lewis ample room to display their knack for tasteful soloing, in addition to showcasing his own immense chops.
“Speaking Song,” one of Eigsti’s own compositions, started with a fast, tricky solo filled with arpeggios and wide intervals, flowing into a strident and confident melody. Following Shifflett’s melodious bass solo, the band shifted into a gallop during Eigsti’s solo, culminating in a raucous middle section before mellowing for the ending.
For the last song of the first set, a rendition of Kenny Dorham’s “Lotus Blossom,” the trio was joined by Eigsti’s longtime friend and Harker middle school music teacher Dave Hart on trumpet. Hart navigated the songs shifting times and rhythms in seemingly effortless fashion, and also showcased his formidable improvisational skills.
During the intermission, several guests at the show remarked about the quality of the venue and reception.
“It’s wonderful,” said Vickie Grove of Portola Valley, a longtime Taylor Eigsti fan who attended last year’s concert. “I love the venue. It’s small. The food is excellent. It’s really fun.”
Kim Huynh, who lives in San Jose, decided to attend after being impressed with her experience seeing pianist Adam Golka last season, saying she enjoyed the “very nice reception. It was exceptional. It was great.”
The second set had some more surprises, including another guest turn by Dave Hart on “Declan,” written by Lewis and named after his son, and a powerful performance on vocals by the young and talented Laila Smith on “Midnight After Noon,” written by Eigsti with Becca Stevens.
Among the more emotionally charged pieces performed was “Distressed,” which Eigsti composed for the 2011 film “Detachment,” starring Adrien Brody. Fittingly, Eigsti performed with no accompaniment for this brooding piece, which was at times also dissonant, plodding and atmospheric.
Eigsti finished the show with the uplifting, groove-driven “Magnolia,” whose rousing mid-section and calming final moments drew a well-deserved extended ovation.