Saturday, June 23, 2012

3 Piano Trios + 1 Quartet

More often than not, musical bagatelles are considered short, light, compositions, a pretty melody or melodic fragment.  Influenced by Bartok's "Fourteen Bagatelles" (written early in the Hungarian composer's career while shedding the influence of 19th Century European classical composers), pianist Jesse Stacken has created 13 "Bagatelles for Trio" (Fresh Sound New Talent Records).  Working with the rhythm section he first organized in 2005 (bassist Eivind Opsvik and drummer Jeff Davis), Stacken creates music that has more heft and exploration than one might expect.  "No. 3" begins mysteriously, a short melodic line underscored by Opsvik bowed drone - once the drums enter, the piece skitters atop Davis's forceful playing. Other pieces, such as "No. 5", are filled with long tones and silences while "No. 10" features the bassist solo for the first 80 seconds before quiet piano chords and intermittent drums move the piece in a different direction. Stacken composed several pieces to begin with one of his accompanists setting the tone, as Davis does so handsomely and forcefully on "No. 7." The presence of the piano on the longest track, "No. 12" (6:40), is, at times, gentle then forceful, sounding near the close of the work like a choir of church bell.  The rapid circular piano figures that introduce "No 13" go through a number of permutations as the piece rumbles forward, Davis's energetic drumming and Opsvik rumbling/rambling bass feeding of off the energy of the leader.

The more you listen to "Bagatelles for Trio", the more is revealed. One begins to discern the patterns of each piece and the various ways the rhythm section colors the music. Jesse Stacken is a fine pianist, a smart composer and a deft arranger - this CD, his 3rd with the Trio, illustrates his continuing growth.  For more information, go to

Canadian-born pianist Jamie Reynolds has studied with a number of fine pianists including David Braid in Canada and, since moving to the United States, with Fred Hersch as well as Craig Taborn.  On his debut recording, "Time With People" (Fresh Sound New Talent), one can hear he has already begun to absorb his influences and create...well, create a fresh sound. With the elastic bass lines of Gary Wang and compelling drum work of Eric Doob, Reynolds explore myriad melodic ideas.  This is often contemplative music, songs that breathe, that rarely rush but slow down to explore sounds that resonate in the soul.  Songs such as "Miel-Coeur" moves as if a gentle breeze was at the musicians' backs.  Yet, "Cold Spring" rocks with a purpose, Doob's driving drum work pushing the brisk pace. Several pieces seem ripe for lyrics, such as the sprightly paced "Singing School" and the title track, the latter taken at a medium but picking up in intensity as the trio moves forward.  Doob's drum work is somewhat surprising, seemingly working against the beat with his expressive snare work.

There are 5 tracks under 2:33 seconds, ranging from stately "Locks (Part Two)" to the Eric Satie-like "Improvisation (We're All Here)" to the disk closer, "The Feeling of Jazz", a solo piano piece whose rich melodic lines sound influenced by Randy Newman. Reynolds is married to the fine vocalist Melissa Stylianou; in fact, he's an important factor in the success of her latest CD, the splendid "Silent Movie" (my review is here.)  Though "Time With People is Jamie Reynold's first recording as a leader, the music reveals both a zest for melody and, as a soloist, a maturity tempered by countless experiences.  The program brings great pleasure - for more information, go to

Pianist-composer Tyson Naylor, a resident of Vancouver, has a multi-faceted career.  He works with Canadian folk-rocker Dan Mangan, a fascinating folk-oriented vocal group known as The Abramson Singers and the fine clarinettist Francois Houle.   One might expect his music to be a bit eclectic and I'm pleased to report that his debut CD, "Kosmonauten" (Songlines) is just that.   The recording, credited to the Tyson Naylor Trio, features bassist Russell Sholberg and drummer Skye Brooks as well as the aforementioned Monsieur Houle on 2 of the 9 cuts.  The opening "Paolo Conte" (named for the Italian singer-songwriter) moves in various directions going in and out of strict time before dropping into a delightful rhythm played out of both drums and piano. They follow that with the raucous boogie-woogie of "Book It" that, for a few moments in the middle, gets a bit "out" but Sholberg's fine bass solo sets the piece right. 

As one move through the music, you can't help but notice that no 2 cuts have the same feel or tempo. There's the hearty opening of "PKP" with its "European" flair that soon moves into a feisty romp, led by Sholberg's active bass lines, pushed along by Brooks' strong drumming and illustrated by Naylor's 2-handed chordal work.  Naylor's prepared piano and Brooks conversational drums lead in the somewhat rudder-less "Adrift" that is, for the middle 2 minutes of its 6:36 length, pulled back to the musical shoreline when the pianist switches to melodica ( a reed instrument with a keyboard that one picks up to blow - it has a 2-3 octave range. 

Houle's soft lines at the opening of "See It Through" have a Middle Eastern feel that turns more towards the classical side when the piano enters. After Naylor's richly etched solo, the clarinettist delivers his own impassioned statement.  He also appears on the longest track (11:20) "Beelitz";  again opening on the softer side, here, Houle weaves his birdsong-like phrases around the circular piano lines.  When the rhythm section enters, the music moves at a slower pace, the melodic interplay
giving away to each person moving at different intensities until they reach a mutual climax. In the final 90 seconds, the band restates the theme bringing the piece to its gentle close.

"Kosmonauten" is an excellent debut for pianist Tyson Naylor, bringing together the disparate elements of his Vancouver upbringing, his 3 years in Germany and return to his home city with an understanding of his creative powers. The rhythm section plays this music with great creativity and panache.  Houle's contributions are quite enjoyable. Enjoyable and engaging, the Tyson Naylor Trio deserves your ears and mind.  For more information, go to

Here's a shot of "Book It", courtesy of Tyson Naylor's Band Camp page:

Pianist Bruce Barth seems to be one of the busiest players on the planet with over 100 recordings on his resume. "Three Shades of Beauty" is his 13th as a leader and first for Savant Records. While his last 4 CDs have either trio or duo recordings, this time out Barth adds the melodic voice of vibraphonist Steve Nelson to the rhythm section of Ben Street (bass) and Dana Hall (drums). The results are an hour + of fine music.  The rhythm section is impressive with 9 of the 10 tracks built on the foundation of Street's melodic bass and Hall's active drum work.  Nelson, who's is never less than stellar, is a fine front line partner; he oozes melody, never overplaying. Barth creates a easy going atmosphere on "Wise Charlie's Blues", taking the first solo with panache. Nelson steps up and immediately "gets down" and sweetly funky.  But, he can also swing hard when called to as he demonstrates on "Final Push" when he rides atop the rhythm section. matching Hall's dynamic drive.  Nelson and Barth negotiate the tricky time signatures (at times in a Latin vein then switching to a blues vamp) of "The Rushing Hour" with aplomb as the rhythm section propels them forward.  John Coltrane's "Big Nick" skips along merrily with Nelson's solo rising off Barth's chords.  When the pianist steps out, he produces a bluesy dance, often moving ahead of the beat. 

Barth chooses to cover pianist Eri Yamamoto's evocative "Night Shadows", Hall's subtle brush work gently nudging the piece along.  Street plays a masterful solo while Barth and Nelson both expose the tender heart of the piece.  The CD closes with the pianist and vibraphonist dancing their way through Hammerstein/Kern's "The Song Is You", a wonderfully upbeat tune to close a delightful program.  If you want to hear an example of musicians at play (dig the way they finish each other's lines), this tracks would be one of the finer examples.

"Three Things of Beauty" is Bruce Barth doing what he does best, playing melodies and swinging with flair.  Teamed with the tasteful vibes of Steve Nelson, the strong bass of Ben Street and dancing drum work of Dana Hall, he touches both the heart and the feet with this well-balanced program.  Need to know more about the man and his music - go to

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