Jul 15, 2014
For me, the piano trio is the most consistently artistic expression of jazz music being made. Perhaps I feel this way having being musically raised with the chamber music overtones of Bill Evans and the considered swing of Ahmad Jamal and Oscar Peterson. The idea of musical counterpoint and instrumental support – particularly in the traditional piano-double bass-drums lineup are most appealing to me. I also remain fascinated with the amount of listening each instrumentalist must do in this format, and how the slightest change in their playing affects the resulting tune.
A few top trios have released new CDs recently, and some are on the road right now. Fred Hersch begins a six night stand at the Village Vanguard this week in support of his first trio studio album in four years. Floating is an appropriate name for the collection, as the trio of players – Hersch on piano, John Hebert on bass and Eric McPherson on drums – often seem to playing above the music, allowing it to flow freely between the acoustic instruments. These are musicians who know each other well, and so their interplay is thoroughly satisfying to me. Hersch is one of the great melodists in piano today, and he never fails to deliver lyrical playing throughout the album.
Denny Zeitlin has released a number of interesting solo piano CDs lately, so it’s nice to hear that he was able to dip into his archives for a trio session recorded live at the Jazz Bakery in November 2001. He is ably supported by Buster Williams on bass and the ever-versatile Matt Wilson on drums. The CD mixes Great American Songbook tunes like “There Will Never Be Another You” and the title track Stairway to the Stars with jazz standards from Wayne Shorter and Sonny Rollins. The closing track, “Out for a Stroll” is a bouncy Zeitlin original that wraps up an engaging set. A special tip of the hat to Wilson, whose brush work and subtle fills make him a model drummer for the piano trio setting.
The Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records label has continued to release some of the most engaging jazz on record, and a highlight of their recent crop of CDs is from pianist/composer John Chin. Chin, whose piano trio album Undercover, features Orlando le Fleming (bass) and Dan Rieser (drums), elected to record live in one room in Brooklyn, with no preconceived arrangements and no edits. The result is an impressionistic evening of improvised standards – an especially riveting “Countdown” – and originals. Chin takes control of the bandstand with “polyphonic improvisation,” broadening his technique in order to improvise several lines at the same time. If the CD is not a melodic treat like Hersch’s Floating or a bouncy classic trio set like Zeitlin’s, it is a consistently interesting and sometimes challenging take on the piano trio that shows that the future of the format is in good hands.