Recent Listening: Trios. Part 3, Cole, Viklický, Erskine, Cary

Nat Cole riffin'.jpgNat King Cole & Friends, Riffin’: The Decca, JATP, Keynote and Mercury Recordings (Hip-O Select). This three-CD box begins with 17 tracks of a trio that served as the model for groups led by Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson, Page Cavanaugh and too many others to list. Nat Cole became one of the most famous singers in the world, but his enduring impact on jazz was as a pianist whose example inspired Bud Powell, Peterson, Bill Evans and virtually every other modern pianist who developed in the 1940s and ’50s. This is the original 1940-’41 Cole trio that included guitarist Oscar Moore and bassist Wesley Prince. The pieces include “Sweet Lorraine,” “Gone With the Draft” and plenty of other vocals and, on every track, Cole’s incomparably light and inventive piano solos. The rest of the impressively packaged album presents Cole the pianist in Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts with a variety of his contemporaries and in imperishable dates with Lester Young, Dexter Gordon and Willie Smith. There are also glimpses of the very young Cole in 1936 as an Earl Hines disciple.
Emil Viklický, Live in Vienna (Cube-Metíer). Here we have the dean of Czech jazz pianists and his trio at a peak of inspiration and passion. Viklický, bassist Frantisek Uhlíř and drummerViklicky Vienna.jpg Laco Tropp long ago melded into one of the most empathetic working bands alive. At this 2007 concert, something—perhaps the vaunted Viennese appreciation of music—sparked added heat. The Viklický trio’s Moravian zest has shone in previous recordings of “A Bird Flew Over,” “Longing,” and his trademark “Wine, Oh Wine.” In Vienna, the intensity went up a notch, emphatically so in the powerful “Highlands, Lowlands.” Like his Czech compatriot George Mraz, Uhlíř is in the top flight of contemporary bassists. He demonstrates his standing not only in the perfection of his sound and the demonic drive of his lines but also in solos like those on “Father’s Blues” (bowed) and “Highlands, Lowlands” (plucked). It is unlikely that in a blindfold test anyone would peg Tropp’s solo on “Wine, Oh Wine” as by an Eastern European drummer. An experienced listener might guess that it’s Philly Joe Jones. As for Viklický, the pianist is at the top of his multifaceted game.
Peter Erskine, Chuck Berghofer, Terry Trotter, The Trio Live @ Charlie O’s (Fuzzy Music) (MP3 or CD). Impromptu gigs can be unmitigated bores, fatal minefields or memorable encounters. In contrast to the Viklickýs, who are all but family, pianist Trotter, bassist Berghofer and drummer Erskine thetrio_liveatcharlieos_mt.jpgcame together for one evening in a modest Los Angeles-area jazz club. They found their bond as premier working jazz musicians who know the idiom, the repertoire and the craft of listening and reacting. Simply put, everything worked. Good tunes provide the material, from the familiar Miles Davis arrangement of “Put Your Little Foot Right Out” to J.J. Johnson’s ballad “Lament.” John Lewis’s rarely-played “Afternoon in Paris,” Billy Strayhorn’s “Blood Count,” a langorous “Ghost of a Chance” and a long, satisfying treatment of “How Deep is the Ocean” complete the album. Trotter is less well known than Berghofer and Erskine, but musicians and the listening cognoscenti admire him for his flawless taste, even touch, harmonic command and spontaneous invention of the kinds of melodies that composers lie awake at night praying for.
Marc Cary Focus Trio, Live 2009 (Motéma). Cary’s lyricism alleviates a tendency toward McCoy Tyner density that over the course of several pieces can accumulate discomfiting weight. TheCary Live 2009.jpg 42-year-old pianist’s third album with bassist David Ewell and drummer Sameer Gupta achieves reasonable balance between both aspects. The three have developed rapport that generates excitement in nearly every track, including a treatment of “‘Round Midnight” founded on a bass ostinato that persists throughout. As elements of their message, “Runnin’ Out of Time” and “Slow Blues for MLK” incorporate audio clips of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. “Just in Time” is an all-out high-speed post-bop romp. In Jackie McLean’s “Minor March,” the trio eases out of a drum-heavy section into concluding passages in which Cary lightens his touch and executes fleet lines that levitate above the rhythm. It is a moment of relief from the power that characterizes most of the CD. It is fair to point out that the audiences at several concerts where the tracks were recorded make it known that they heartily approve that power and excitement.

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  1. Bill Crow says

    Nat’s solos were wonderful, but his biggest gift to the jazz world was teaching everyone how to comp behind a soloist.

  2. Mike Paulson says

    I only know Terry Trotter from working with Larry Carlton. Will have to check this out, knew he had more in him than TV theme songs. Very different song-list than what I have heard before from Terry. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Lana Kolbrún Eddudóttir says

    Emil Viklický is a great pianist. Heard him for the first time 3 or 4 years ago in a club recording from Prague, and fell for him right away. Aired an hour of his playing for my listeners at the Icelandic Radio, through the courtesy of EBU, The European Broadcasting Union. Excellent, indeed.