One look at David Witham's recording credits and you can tell the guy's from L.A. The pianist and keyboard player has recorded with everyone from Chaka Khan to Jose Feliciano to k.d. lang. But the music he makes as a leader belies his background as an anonymous hired gun. On Spinning the Circle, Witham's latest recording, the 50-something musician honors the impulses of early fusion without coming across as a sentimentalist. The first sound on the record, for instance, is that of a skittery breakbeat, not the sort of thing you'd expect from someone stuck in the '70s. Witham follows the progressive funk of the opening track ("The Neon") with an Evans-esque piano ballad ("Who Knows"), a country-tinged pop number ("N.O. Rising"), and an accordion-driven freakout ("Momentum").
If these songs suggest that Witham's strength lies in his eclecticism, the later half of the record brings his talents as an instrumentalist into clearer focus. On "Light and Life," an elegant display of moody pianism, Witham proves that he can hold his own with little in the way of accompaniment. His touch is light and his ideas are pleasing but never cloying. He has the chops to make a solo-piano record, yet he is too much of a conceptualist to devote himself to such a single-minded pursuit. He is, in other words, a complete artist, someone who does things because he can - such as L.A. session work - not because he must. -by Brent Burton