Monday, May 13, 2013

Piano Trios Live and On CD + Thiefs 3 Lift One's Spirits

Pianist/composer Armen Donelian returns to Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street in New Haven this Friday May 17. With him will be bassist David Clark and drummer George Schuller (the snappy chapeau-wearing percussionist is making his 11th appearance in the Elm City performance space since 2007) and the Trio will play music they recorded in January of this year in the Firehouse recording space.

Donelian has been active on the jazz scene for nearly 4 decades, working with musicians such as Sonny Rollins, Mongo Santamaria, Chet Baker and Billy Harper. As a leader, he's issued a dozen recordings include 2008's "Oasis" featuring both Clark and Schuller.  A lyrical player, Donelian is not afraid to play with power; yet his lines are so articulate, so melodic, that his ballad playing truly stands out.  Clark and Schuller are intuitive partners, good listeners who not only support the pianist but also offer intelligent counterpoint and the occasional kick.

The Trio plays 2 sets - 8:30 and 10 p.m. (separate admission for each) - and you can reserve/buy tickets by going to  To find out more about the music and life of Armen Donelian, go to

Pianist/composer Noah Haidu is a wonderfully talented pianist whose debut CD on Posi-Tone Records, "Slipstream", featured a quintet with Jon Irabagon (saxophone) and Jeremy Pelt (trumpet).  His sophomore effort for the label is aptly titled "Momentum" and finds Haidu leading a trio of bassist Ariel de la Portilla and drummer McClenty Hunter through a smartly balanced program of originals and standards.

Perhaps the best part of Haidu's playing is how melodic he can be.  On pieces such as Keith Jarrett's "Rainbow" and Thad Jones's "A Child Is Born", the pianist makes sure you hear the melody but, in the case of the latter tune, he wraps in quite a different arrangement. His solo is thoughtful, introspective (at times), and wistful as he gracefully and then forcefully moves away from the melody. The Cuban-born de la Portilla gives Haidu a great foundation while Hunter stays close to the beat without intruding. The gentle swing of the opening track, Jimmy Van Heusen's "I Thought About You", gives Haidu the opportunity to display his chops over the bassist's active "walking" lines and the drummer's catchy swing. The 2-handed chordal opening section of Joe Henderson's "Serenity" is orchestral, richly melodic leaning towards the blues - the bass and drums eases into the solo section, opening a groove for Haidu to dance atop,.

The title track is an intelligent multi-sectioned piece with various changes in dynamics.  The drummer is in the driver's seat, giving the song a joyful head of steam. There is a tinge of McCoy Tyner's power in Haidu's forceful solo.  The "slippery" rhythms of "Juicy" displays the fine interaction of the trio with each musician pushing the piece forward.

As I have stated numerous times, the jazz world does not lack for piano trio recordings.  What Noah Haidu and company accomplish on "Momentum" is to play with intensity, intelligence, and wit, allowing the pieces to breathe and the listener to enjoy without feeling battered or played down to. For more information, go to

Last week, I reviewed the new CD by trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson (read it here) - the bassist on the recording is Keith Witty and his name stuck in my mind because I had read it somewhere else in the recent past.  As it turns out, when I cleared off my desk, underneath some overdue bills was the new CD by the trio known as Thiefs. Cooperatively led by the afore-mentioned Witty, Guillermo E. Brown (drums, vocals, electronics) and Christophe Panzani (saxophone, electronics), the ensemble creates music that is best described as electronic-funk-jazz-soul-improvisational jams-dance-trance. The debut CD, released on Melanine Harmonique Recordings in late February of this year, is quite melodic and mysterious - Brown's soft yet soulful voice is featured on several tunes, including the foreboding "Daybaby". moving in and out of Panzani's electronically altered saxophone. "Olive Island", one of 3 tracks featuring the keyboard work of Shoko Nagai, meshes electric keyboard washes with a jaunty bass figure. Brown's vocal pulls one into the piece and Panzani's intense, passionate, saxophone leads the group into the improvisational section.

Accordionist Vincent Peirani guests on "Sans Titre (huile sur toile)", Witty's thick bass tone and Brown's Hip Hop drums providing a rhythmic treat for Panzani's feathery alto saxophone lines (not unlike Chris Wood, the saxophonist in the 70s British band Traffic) - the second half jumps into an irresistible Caribbean-flavored rhythm. The accordion doesn't stand out as much as give the piece a joyful feel.

The electronic crunch of "Doute/s" jumps out of the speaker, along with the buzzing and heavy low notes. There's a touch of Herbie Hancock's electro-funk in the cut as well as on the following track "All Day" - unlike Hancock's mechanized dance grooves, these pieces enjoy the fluidity of the bass work that truly makes the music roar and soar.

Thiefs might not steal your heart but the trio's music will catch in your ears and mind. Good work all around and worth your time - for more information, go to

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