Monday, February 20, 2012

3 Piano Trios

One of the joys of listening to pianist/composer Matthew Shipp is that one really does not know what to expect.  "Elastic Aspects" (Thirsty Ear) is the 4th recording by his Trio that features the fine bassist Michael Bisio and creative percussionist Whit Dickey.  Opening with bowed bass and what sounds like percussion and electronics, the piece, titled "Alternative Aspects", sounds like the overture - however, it is followed by "Aspects", a 27 second long piano statement.  The first actual Trio piece, "Psychic Counterpoint", has the feel of a Herbie Nichols composition with its jagged melody, tempo changes, and boppish bass line.  That is followed by "Frame Focus", a piano solo that is contemplative yet exploratory.  Furiously bowed bass and fiery percussion is dubbed "Flow Chart" while the aptly-titled "Mute Voice" is a rambling piano solo over the barely-heard rhythm section. Shipp moves inside the piano and manipulates the pedals for "Stage 10" while Dickey plays a modified shuffle beat and Bisio plays a nimble "walking" bass line.

"Elastic Aspects" is a good description of Matthew Shipp's approach to creating music.  First and second time through the program, there is a continuous sense of discovery (the duo tracks, the piano solos, the dynamic variations.)  As one returns again, it's easier to hear the musicians "conversing", easier to concentrate on Shipp's fascinating melodic and rhythmic playing, and it makes one wish he was in the audience watching this creative Trio makes this music come "alive."  For more information, go to

The Venezuelan-born pianist Luis Perdomo spent a good part of the first decade of the 21st Century as an integral member of the bands led by tenor saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon.  His work on the latter composer's 6 CDs has been exemplary, making the music sound fresh and exciting.  Perdomo has also issued 3 CDs as a leader, his most recent being 2008's "Focus Point" released on CrissCross.  This new recording, "Universal Mind" (RKM), came about at the suggestion of label head and bandleader Coltrane.  In the liner notes, Perdomo writes "A few years ago, Ravi Coltrane mentioned the idea of me playing with Jack (DeJohnette) and I said 'Hell yeah'".  It took a while for the pianist to work up the courage to write to the great drummer and 2012 Jazz Master but once they got together, DeJohnette was happy to be part of the project.  Drew Gress is the bassist and the results, recorded in August of 2009, are quite a treat. 

The program opens with a rousing reading of Joe Henderson's "Tetragon" - for those who think Perdomo only has Latin "chops", one can hear the influence of his mentor Sir Roland Hanna in the blues-soaked hard bop approach.  The rhythm section dances below as the pianist goes on joyful romp.  "Langnau" is an medium-tempo original with a handsome melody line that features fine solos by Gress and Perdomo while DeJohnette provides fine work beneath them.

Perdomo and DeJohnette create 2 spontaneous pieces, "Unified Path I and II", separated by another Trio romp.   The duo pieces allow the musicians the opportunity to explore different sounds, taking their time to allow the music to evolve.  "..Path I" has the feel of John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" with the pianist creating a hypnotic feel with the full piano chords and repetitive lines while "..Path II" is "freer" and faster, both musicians pushing each other.

Among the other highlights is the joyful journey through DeJohnette's "Tin Can Alley", with its various twists-and-turns.  The composer really dances on this piece, his ecstatic "drum-dance" providing propulsion and also engaging in a fanciful 3-way conversation that brings the piece to an energetic close.  "Dance of the Elephants" is a lovely ballad from the pen of bassist Miriam Sullivan (also Perdomo's wife), a song that the Trio allows to emerge slowly. Again, the interaction of the 3 musicians alows the emotion of the song to be fully realized. The program comes to a close with the exciting Perdomo original, "Doppio", which flies forward on the thunderous drums and flying fingers of Gress.

"Universal Mind" is a bit long (73:25) but filled with great playing, several strong melodies and wonderful interplay.  This is music that feels so "alive" and deserves to be heard live.  As I write, Perdomo is about to perform a "CD Release" tour with bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer Jhonathan Blake starting at New York City's Jazz Standard (2/23) before heading to Europe for a week.  For more information, go to

 Adam Kromelow, a graduate of the Manhattan School of Music, studies with Jason Moran and Vijay Iyer.  His debut CD, rightly titled "Youngblood" (ZOHO), features his Trio of Jason Burger (drums) and Raviv Markovitz (bass) and is produced by Arturo O'Farrill (someone who knows a thing or two about the piano.) Kromelow is a powerful pianist, with impressive facility, and he likes to push hard on the faster pieces.  The CD opens with the first of 6 originals, "Black Mamba", and it's a "burner" from the get-go, save for the 2 short classical interludes and a quick bass solo.  The rhythmic attack abates a bit on "Mojo", with its quirky, Thelonious Monk-like, intro, that opens up into an impressionistic piano foray closing on a jaunty piano figure. The funky, playful, "Mr. Pokey" shows that they can do "dynamics" in an intelligent manner and Kromelow's playful piano work sets the mood for the slip-and-slide rhythms that Markovitz and Burger create.

The prettiest track is the straight-forward take of John Lennon's "Across The Universe";  Kromelow presents the melody without much embellishment while the shuffle-like rhythm reminds me of Fleetwood Mac instrumental "Albatross" from 1969.  The Trio brings up the intensity for the final pass through the chorus but fades out quietly.

They have fun with Monk's "Brilliant Corners", with a out-of-time introduction that finally breaks into a gallop and the pianist plays fragments of the melody line. Right before the end, they drop into the familiar in a medium-blues tempo then double-time the piece out.  Another inspired cover is Peter Gabriel's "Mercy Street" - the song starts slowly and quietly but, as the Trio moves through the verses, the intensity picks up until it reaches a fever pitch.  The bass and drums drop out as the piano plays a short coda.  The approach works so well, the Trio repeats it on, at least, half the cuts. For instance, they go in and out of "intense" mode on "Bushido", really ratcheting it up for the closing 90 seconds.  They really slam their way through the last 2 minutes of the final track,  "Upgrade." Chalk it up to youthful enthusiasm.

What does stand out is the lyrical quality of Adam Kromelow on the slower pieces as well as his rhythmic left hand work on most of the pieces.  As a composer, his tendency is to change tempos several times during the songs.  With the forceful work of the rhythm section, there are several instances where one hears the influence of The Bad Plus.  The 9 tracks come in at just under 44 minutes so there's no excess in this program.  Markovitz and Burger rarely solo; instead, the rhythm section concentrates on its interplay and supporting the pianist.

As a debut, "Youngblood" is full of enthusiasm and promise. There's much to enjoy as one digs into the program.  Casual jazz listeners will like the hard-rock drive of the bass and drums while piano trio fans will enjoy Adam Kromelow's way around the keyboard. Find out more by going to  

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