Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Power and Beauty of the Trio

The Litchfield Suite - Peter Madsen Trio (Playscape Recordings) - Connecticut does not have a plethora of jazz festivals so the annual Litchfield Fest is an eagerly awaited event.  What few people read about and/or see is the Summer Jazz camp that precedes the weekend of major performances.  Pianist/composer Madsen has been a member of the Summer faculty since the turn of the 21st Century and his latest project is a celebration of his association with Litchfield, the musicians and staff.
If you're familiar with Madsen's work, you know he's a powerful player, often displaying the sonic force of Cecil Taylor or Don Pullen and the melodic tendencies of McCoy Tyner and Myra Melford.  For this live performance (recorded at the Festival in August of 2008), he is ably abetted by bassist Andy McKee and drummer Gerald Cleaver.  The "Suite" has 6 parts plus an "intro", 2 piano interludes and one interlude each for the bass and drums.  Each of the "main" compositions is a dedication - "The Source and Force", a work that blends fiery piano work with a long and impressive arco bass solo goes out to Festival founder Vita Muir while "Chillin' at the Cottage" is an impressionistic ballad composed for the pianist's "down time" spent in bassist Mario Pavone's domicile.  "Cool Camp for Cool Kids" opens with Cleaver's "parade" drums and the rest of the Trio gets right down into the "groove." It's a subtle yet funky piece that builds in
intensity with Madsen's powerful 2-handed solo.  The dedication to the camp cafeteria, "Run for Your Lives", with its rubato rumblings, is a tasty and abstract tidbit.  "Fanny Pack Factor" goes out to to camp director Don Braden and comes in quietly like "Maiden Voyage"and is a lovely homage to the saxophonist (fine bass and quiet yet crisp cymbal work  behind the melodic piano.  The final section of the "Suite" is dedicated to Pavone - "Forward Motion" best describes the bassist/composer's style of writing and physical playing that Madsen has often seen and heard as a member of Pavone's different ensembles.  The piece is a high-powered and stunning end to the program, with a well-deserved and  rousing reception from the audience.
Taken as a whole, "The Litchfield Suite" is a truly satisfying experience with fine written material, forceful playing and impressive interactions. This is easily one of the best recordings of 2010. The disk will be released on March 16 and the Trio plays a CD release concert on June 4 at Firehouse 12 in New Haven, CT.  For more information, go to www.playscape-recordings.com, www.petermadsen.us/, and www.firehouse12.com.

Out Front  - Rufus Reid (Motema) - Bassist Rufus Reid has appeared on countless recordings over his 4+ decades on the jazz scene.  It's easy to understand why;  he's got great facility, stunning tone, a sense of "swing" that does not quit, and an innate ability to support and interact with soloists.  This new recording (with added video content) features the fine Brazilian drummer/percussionist Duduka Da Fonseca and pianist Steve Allee.  6 of the 9 pieces are originals (3 from the leader, 2 from Allee and 2 from Da Fonseca), and 1 each from Marcos Silva, Tadd Dameron and Eddie Harris.
First thing one realize is that this is not just a "show up and blow" session, that the Trio is a working unit and that this music is an expression of joy.  Highlights include Da Fonseca's Brazilian hard-bop "Dona Maria" and Allee's medium-tempo swinger "Ebony."  The former displays the drummer's brilliant ability to move a group while the latter is a blues-based work that features a highly expressive bass solo and highlights the composer's strength as an accompanist.
Reid's "Caress the Thought"is a multi-sectioned work that has a number of dynamic shifts, showcases the bassist's stunning arco (bowed) work, Allee's richly melodic yet rhythmic solo playing and Da Fonseca's drive interspersed with moments of soft cymbal splashes. The Trio approaches Dameron's classic "If You Could See Me Now" as a ballad with Reid as the only solo voice - one could not ask for a more melodic solo from an acoustic bassist.  Reid's high notes are strong, the occasional harmonics add a sweet touch, and he takes his time to develop his melodic ideas (the cut does not seem long at 9 minutes.)
Rufus Reid is definitely "Out Front" but not at the expense of his fellow musicians or the program. These  players are equals and the success of this recording is that no one person nor style dominates. Impressive music, great playing and good friends add up to one fine CD. For more information, go to www.rufusreid.com.
Take a listen to the Trio's version of Silva's "Dry Land" (courtesy of Motema Records and IODA Promonet.)

Dry Land (mp3)

Rumors - Frank Kimbrough (Palmetto) - This new recording from the fine pianist/composer came about as a "happy accident."  Famed photographer Jimmy Katz has been getting involved with recording lately and had 4 hours booked at New York City's Avatar Studios.  He offered the time to Kimbrough if he had a project he wished to document.  The pianist had just spent the previous weekend on a gig with bassist Masa Kamaguchi and drummer Jeff Hirschfield - he called them, they said "yes!" and the next day the Trio spent 3 hours creating this program. 
In a small room without baffles or headphones, seated close to each other, and recorded without minimal gear, "Rumors" is intimate jazz of the first degree. All but one of the pieces are Kimbrough originals.  The disk leads off with an adaptation of Spanish composer Federico Mompou's "Six." The Catalan composer (1893-1987)  was noted for his expressive solo piano pieces.  This piece offers finely wrought piano lines, impressive counterpoint from Kamaguchi and quiet support from Hirschfield.  "TMI" displays the influences of both Thelonious Monk and Ornette Coleman on the pianist, with its off-handed bluesy phrases and "free swing" from the rhythm section.  Kimbrough's lyricism shines forth on "Hope", the phrases tumbling easily and gracefully from the piano.  Another influence on Kimbrough has been Andrew Hill and "For Andrew" is a classy, quiet, elegy that combines lyrical bass work, active yet soft drumming (wonderful cymbal work) and an elongated, circular, melody line that slowly moves forward and back to opening lines.  Kamaguchi's contrbution should not be overlooked as his counterpoint is filled with delicious short melodic (and seemingly pointillistic) phrases.
Other highlights include the Latin-tinged "Sure As We're Here", replete with two-handed piano lines that move from rhythmic to melodic and back with ease as well as splendid brush work. There's a "free-ish" feel to "Over" with solo spots for both drummer and bassist in the first half of the 6+ minute piece before Kimbrough's expansive rumbling and rollicking spotlight (great last line, too.)
Many people like to be bowled over by jazz, wowed by the technical facility of the musicians.  There are others who like to seduced by the sounds, enjoy the intimacy of the interplay.  Those who fall into the latter category should embrace and celebrate the music of "Rumors" - one can easily get lost in its myriad joys.  For more information, go to http://home.earthlink.net/~fkimbrough/ or www.palmetto-records.com.

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