Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Joys of the Jazz Trio: Recent Acquisitions

I have been delinquent in preparing posts for a while now. I could blame Huricane Sandy but the truth is that I got out of the rhythm of writing regularly after my trip in August, which is a long time ago already and a lousy excuse. Since my last post in October I have acquired a significant amount of new music and stalled every time I tried to decide on what to do next.  With this post I hope to make up for lost time and to spur myself back into action. Here goes.....

I've decided to tackle some of the many piano trios I have accumulated since the beginning of fall, dating all the way back to one I purchased while in Barcelona in August. After picking out a selection of those that I wanted to blog about, I have separated them into four sets, of which this post covers those that I would consider closest to the mainstream, e.g. those that feature composed music; a mix of standards, popular music, and originals; an emphasis upon melody; and improvisation around the melodies that are not too "far out."

Product DetailsThe first CD is the Albert Sanz Trio's "O Que Sera" (Nuba Records 2012), featuring Albert Sanz on piano, Javier Colina on bass, and the veteran Al Foster on drums. Sanz is a Valencian born in 1978 who studied at Berklee, and who has recorded several CDs since his 2004 debut on Fresh Sounds New Talent. And talented he is, with a very lyrical and flowing style to his play, supported by two veteran players on bass and drums. The music has a very distintive and strong pulse, although it is not strongly latin-flavored despite the compositions themselves being largely by the Brazilians Ivan Lins and Chico Buarque, with one song by Jobim and "Sophisticated Lady" by Ellington. Foster provides a lot of the forward drive from his drum set, and the tunes feature many melodies with syncopated rhythms that keep the toes tapping throughout. But it is the lightness of Sanz' touch and inventiveness of his play that stands out on this really delicious set. Stongly recommended mainstream trio work. 

Product DetailsNext is a re-release of a 1986 outing at the Village Vanguard, featuring the Steve Kuhn Trio, "Life's Magic" (Sunnyside 2012). I have said before that I am a big Steve Kuhn fan, and this 26 year old recording is outstanding, with Kuhn's partners being the inestimable Ron Carter on bass and Al Foster once again on drums. Fresh and inspired play abounds, featuring  "Jitterbug Waltz", "Never Let Me Go", "Little Old Lady", "Yesterday's Gardenias"and "Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise" along with three originals by Kuhn.  There is very little more that needs to be said about this trio other than the names of the players -- Kuhn, Foster, and Carter -- the setting -- the Vanguard -- and the songs. A real masterpiece of the traditonal jazz trio. 

Product DetailsJunior Mance is back again on his own label with "The Three of Us" (JunGlo Music 2012), a trio CD recorded live at the Cafe Loup, where Mance plays each Sunday night.  Mance, who is 84 years young, is a veteran of over 60 years as a jazz pianist, beginning his career in the late forties with Gene Ammons, and later playing with Lester Young, Dinah Washington, Cannonball Adderley, dizzy Gillespie, and the Eddie Davis/Johnny Griffin group.  He is a master of the bop piano who has recorded in excess of two dozen CDs as a leader. this latest disc is unusual in that his accompanists feature drummer Hide Tanaka and, instead of a bass as the string instrument, violinist Michi Fuji. While I am not inclinded to liking jazz violin, the ocmbination works beautifully here, with the violin playing counter-melodies, keeping time, and ocassionally taking solos while Mance in turn comps. the seven tunes include five covers and two Mance originals, with "Emily" and "Whisper Not" being highlights for this listener. This is a lovely, restrained set of flowing melodies and lively improvisations.

Product DetailsAnother live performance is featured on the next CD, "Live at Kitano" (Palmetto 2012) by the Frank Kimbrough Trio, featuring Kimbrough on piano, Jay Anderson on bass, and Matt Wilson on drums. this third live outing (Kuhn and Mance being the first two) is from a small room in New York City, and the Trio plays an appropriately relaxed and restrined set, featuring three originals by Kimbrough and five other melodies. Kimbrough's style is generally quiet and highly impresionistic, even when playing standards such as "Lover Man" and Single Petal of a Rose", as the trio does here, and it is lovely to sit back and enjoy the creativity, lyricism, and colorations of the music, which is first rate. Speaking of colorations, the trio does a wonderful job with a Paul Motian composition, "Arabesque" with Wilson in particular providing the moods and shadings expected from a Motiian piece.

Product DetailsThe last of the trios featured in this post is the most lively, that of the Dave King Trio's "I've Been Ringing You" (Sunnyside 2012). Yes this is the same Dave King from the Bad Plus and of Dave King's Trucking Company, but the music is light years away from the sounds of those two groups. Here the music is much more in the tradition of a standards piano jazz trio, with melody trumping rhythm and dynamics, and improvisations being creative but inside the box. his supporting cast is Bill Carrothers on piano and Billy Peterson on drums. This is trio music for those who are looking for a little pizzazz, a little less restraint than Kimbrough or Kuhn offer, and more freedom and dynamic play. There are no liner notes for the recording; I can only assume that King wanted to demonstrate that he can play within the tradition, that he does not have to be bombastic or outre, and that he has great technique and a great sense of arrangement. And I believe he proves this, with a set of eight pieces that includes seven covers and one group composition/improvisation. Songs like "So In Love", "If I Should Loose You", and "People Will Say We're In Love" are handled with panache and creativity; and Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman" is a highlight to this listener. This is for those who like the mainstream but want to step out slightly into the world of modern creative post-bop -- not too traditional, but not overly modern and improvisational either.

So there are five really nice CDs that I recommend without reservation. Some are mellow and restrained, some less so, but all demostrate outstanding musicianship.

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