As usual, there are piles of incoming compact discs in my office and the music room. Among those that I will want to hear more than once are several by the piano-bass-drums combination that for at least sixty-five years has been at the core of jazz. The piano trio, of course, functions as the rhythm section for big bands and combos. On its own, depending on the players and how they relate to one another, it is capable of nearly limitless flexibility, breadth, depth and variety. In this posting last month, I reflected on the importance of a piano trio that changed the state of the art. Here’s a short list of recommended trio CDs from among the stacks of fairly recent arrivals.
Kenny Barron Trio, The Perfect Set, Live At Bradley’s II (Sunnyside). Barron, piano; Ray Drummond, bass; Ben Riley, drums.
Three years ago in my Jazz Times review of this album’s predecessor, I wrote,
Barron takes “Solar” at a fast clip that does nothing to suppress his development of original melodic ideas or inventiveness in voicings. There’s not a cliché to be heard.
Nor is there in volume two, unless sprinkles of Thelonious Monk seconds and whole-tone runs are to be considered clichés. Barron’s one solo track is a joyous ride on Monk’s “Shuffle Boil.” For the rest of the hour, the trio shines. Barron’s ballad tribute to Monk, “The Only One,” is a highlight, but not the highlight. The entire CD is a highlight by one of the best trios of this or any other period of jazz.
Don Friedman VIP Trio, Timeless (441). Friedman, piano; John Patitucci, bass; Omar Hakim, drums.
Since the very early 1960s, Friedman has been demonstrating that his thorough understanding of Bill Evans liberates him to be himself within the song form. For a pianist to be himself playing so indelibly personal an Evans piece as “Turn Out the Stars” is a monumental expression of individuality. At seventy,Friedman continues his growth, sounding more youthful and inventive than ever. Patitucci may be Friedman’s ideal bassist.
Jason Moran, Same Mother (Blue Note). Moran, piano; Tarus Mateen, bass; Nasheet Waits, drums; Marvin Sewell, guitar.
Okay, so it’s a quartet. But it’s a trio with a guitar grafted on, except for the integrated, and quite lovely, “Aubade.” After being puzzled by all the hype when Moran emerged a few years ago, I am beginning to fathom his iconoclastic approach, although I find it less profound and revolutionary than some do. He may have studied with Jaki Byard, a genius, but the publicity suggesting that he is Byard’s successor or reincarnation is massively unfair to Moran. Let’s wait a minute and see what he becomes. His trio treatment of Mal Waldron’s “Fire Waltz,” sans guitar, may hold a hopeful hint.
Mary Lou Williams 1944-1945 (Classics). Williams, piano; Al Lucas, bass; Jack Parker, drums.
This survey of a couple of important years in Williams’s career includes her suite “Signs of the Zodiac,” seven of whose twelve segments are with the trio. If you want to hear, in her prime, an influence on Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell, this is a good place to start.
Bill Mays, Neil Swainson, Terry Clarke, Bick’s Bag (Triplet). Mays, piano; Swainson, bass; Clarke, drums.
Mays has two trios, the one with Martin Wind and Matt Wilson and this one, with two of Canada’s finest sidemen. Recorded at The Montreal Bistro and Jazz Club, having a fine night, they close with Bud Powell’s “Hallucinations,” a good idea because the performance would have been hard to top.
Jon Mayer Trio, Strictly Confidential (Fresh Sound). Mayer, piano; Chuck Israels, bass; Arnie Wise, drums.
Without Mays’ sprung energy, Mayer is a relaxed and relaxing player with origins in the Bud Powell school. Here, he reunites with Israels and Wise. He played with them in Europe more than four decades ago. Their take on Powell’s and Kenny Dorham’s title tune is saturated with Bud’s spirit, and Israels is in his most compelling walking mode.
The Christian Jacob Trio, Styne & Mine (WilderJazz). Jacob, piano; Trey Henry, bass; Ray Brinker, drums.
The brilliant pianist in a program of songs by Jule Styne (“It’s You or No One,” I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry, and others) and originals by Jacob. The trio’s sometime boss, Tierney Sutton, sings a couple of tunes with the band. In the notes, Jacob’s other sometime boss, Bill Holman, says, “Christian, Trey and Ray are masters; chops are in abundance, but only in the service of the music.” Yup.
Steve Kuhn Trio, Quiéreme Mucho (Sunnyside). Kuhn, piano; David Finck, bass; Al Foster, drums.
Like the slightly older Friedman and the slightly younger Mays, Kuhn is a yeoman of modern jazz who earns more recognition than he gets. In this program of classic Latin American songs (“Bésame Mucho,” “Tres Palabras” and “Andalucía” among them), he is full of swing, refractive ideas and, at times, almost giddy good humor. Finck and Foster are superb behind, around, and weaving in and out of Kuhn’s inventions. A splendid album.
Hey, this is fun. Let’s do more tomorrow.
(To be continued)