Monday, April 30, 2018

Listening to Trios (Pt 1)

If I count correctly,  "Fred Hersch Trio: Live in Europe" (Palmetto records) is the 12th trio album has released since 1984.  The pianist seems to have transcended the genre with his only equal, the now-defunct trio of Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette, and Gary Peacock.  In some ways, the Hersch Trio - bassist John Hébert and drummer Eric McPherson has been the rhythm section since 2009 - has, arguably, passed the Jarrett Trio for its inventive and playful approach.  The new album, recorded on the penultimate date of the Hersch Trio's second 2017 European tour, came about through serendipity.  Recorded in a 1930's-built hall in Brussels, Belgium, the pianist did not know the group was being captured on tape until after the concert.  Upon learning of the recording's existence and listening back to the show, Hersch knew this music had to be released.

Photo: John Abbott
The word "playful" is a perfect description of the first four tracks. The album opens with a sprightly reading of Thelonious Monk's "We See", a performance that owes as much to the Marx Brothers as any other group.  The interaction of the three musicians is joy personified. Even when Hébert and McPherson fall into a swiftly swinging tempo, Hersch goes in many different directions. Next is "Snape Maltings" which is actually a town in England 105 to the Northeast of London (and not related to "Harry Potter"), shows the dynamic range of the Trio as the melody moves from one instrument to the next with delightful elasticity.  The following song, "Scuttlers", is not a misspelling of the famous Boston, MA, night club but a musical interpretation of the songs of crabs "scuttling" along the beach. Kudos to McPherson who truly captures the sound of crabs on his trap set (pun intended). The fun continues as the Trio revisits "Skipping, a Hersch original they recorded on the first album they did together, 2009's "Whirl." It's a aural treat to hear where the group takes the sweet melody.

The album also includes three tribute songs (all composed by Hersch).  There's the lovely ballad, "Bristol Fog" (for the late pianist John Taylor), and the sweet, sashaying, tune "The Big Easy" (dedicated to New Orleans resident, author Tom Piazza (the novel "City of Refuge", "Understanding Jazz: Ways to Listen", and the major write for the HBO series "Treme"). Sandwiched between those two tracks is the rambunctious "Newklypso", dedicated to  Sonny Rollins. It's a treat to hear the pianist dancing atop the delightful rhythm section.

The final three tracks include two compositions of Wayne Shorter ("Miyako" from 1969's Blue Note Lp "Schizophrenia" and "Black Nile" from 1964's "Night Dreamer"). The former is a medium-tempo ballad with a splendid piano solo over the fine work of the bass and drums.  The latter jumps out of the gate with a strong drum solo before the Trio pushes the piece forward - if you ever had a doubt about Hersch's "bop chops", listen here and listen closely. The "encore" tune is a piano solo stroll through "Blue Monk" - the composer Monk has been a great influence on the musician Hersch as he takes the classic tune through a delightful transformation without losing the heart of the original (dig the stride section which says a lot about Monk's inspirations).

"Live In Europe" is an excellent addition to the other recordings by the Fred Hersch Trio - the program rivals 2014's "Floating" as one of this ensemble's best.  If you love the music this group makes, you'll buy the album with or without my recommendation. If you have never heard Messrs. Hersch, Hébert, and McPherson live or on CD, wait no longer - this is glorious music and deserves your attention!

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Here's a live take on the tune for Mr. Rollins from earlier in 2017:

It's hard to believe that the trio of Larry Goldings (Hammond B-3 organ), Peter Bernstein (guitar), and Bill Stewart (drums) first played together in 1991. All three musicians have had busy careers:  Goldings has appeared on a slew of albums and has toured with the likes of James Taylor, John Mayer, Maceo Parker, and Jim Hall. Bernstein first hit the jazz road with saxophonist Lou Donaldson in 1990 and has toured and recorded with drummer Jimmy Cobb and Joshua Redman. He's released a number of excellent albums for Criss Cross, SMALLS Live, and Smoke Sessions.  Stewart has a had a very busy career, also working with Maceo Parker as well as Seamus Blake, Pat Metheny, and John Scofield. He has led groups that have recorded for Blue Note, ENJA, and Pirouet.

"Toy Tunes" is the trio's 12th album in its career and their second for the German-based Pirouet Records. From the opening moments of "Fagen" (Goldings tune for the Steely Dan co-founder) to the gently swinging "Maybe" (from the musical "Annie"), it's clear that these three musicians are on the same wave-length.  There's no clutter, you can hear each instrument clearly, and melody is king.  Besides the "Annie" tune, the trio also take a delightful ramp through "I'm In The Mood For Love", pushed forward by Stewart's splendid brush work beneath the guitarist and organist sharing the melody before Bernstein takes off on a delightful solo.  Goldings has active bass pedal feet and really shows his swinging side on this track.

To their credit, this trio is not afraid to take a few chances.  Carla Bley's "And Now The Queen" is a challenging piece that heads out but never loses its way (Bernstein's guitar work brings Mary Halvorson to mind).  The title track is a Wayne Shorter tune from his Blue Note days that was to released by the label until 1980 and is on the "Et Cetera" album.  The tune has a pleasing melody played by the guitarist with his partners creating an easy swing beneath him.  Stewart's "Calm" may remind some of John Abercrombie's "Timeless" - not so much for the melody but for the atmosphere the organ and brushes create for the guitar lead to travel over.

On initial listening, "Toy Tunes" sounds a bit tame yet, if you sit and really listen, you will be rewarded. Larry Goldings, Peter Bernstein, and Bill Stewart are masterful artists and the musical portraits they create/play bring to mind Larry Young (in his Blue Note days).  This is fun, funky, classy music that has surprising depth and warmth.

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Drummer and composer Jeff Cosgrove is a fearless musician/improviser.  He lives in rural Maryland, performs mostly in the Washington D.C. , Virginia, and West Virginia areas.  He has played and recorded with musicians such as violist Mat Manieri, saxophonist Noah Preminger, pianists Matt Shipp and Frank Kimbrough, plus saxophonist Jeff Lederer and bassist Martin Wind. Check out his page at Bandcamp for a slew of live recordings.

His latest release, "Hunters & Scavengers" (self-released), features the dynamic duo of Scott Robinson (tenor and baritone sax) and Ken Filiano (bass). With Cosgrove's muscular drumming leading the way, this trio powers through 10 pieces, all but one (Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman") credited to the three participants.  There are moments when the pace is blistering, such as the aptly titled "Don't Look (Just Run)"; its fire is created by the manic bowed bass and strong cymbal work while Robinson's sax plays whirling figures.

Cosgrove's roiling drums join in dialogue with Robinson's tenor sax for the first 2/3rds of "Patterned Behavior", reminding this listener of dialogues that John Coltrane created with Rashied Ali on "Interstellar Space." Here, the duo never gets as frenetic as that duo: when Filiano joins in, the music gets a bit more heated yet never loses its forward motion.  The bassist's arco work is other-wordly on "Simple Justification", moaning and keening while Robinson creates an emotional melody and Cosgrove drives.  Soon, Filiano steps out for a powerful pizzicato solo, his full tone and melodic sensibility helping to mold the piece, push his companion in a different direction.

There's a noisy playfulness (and a bit of electronic manipulation on the bass) to "Song of The Cuddlefish" - it's one of the pieces that you have to listen to several times to hear how the three instruments move in towards each other and then away, responding to each other's power as well as the subtle gestures each musical makes.  The trio can be gentle, as they demonstrate on "Rays of Dawn." The piece unfolds slowly, no one rushes, there is intelligent of silence, longer tones from both Robinson and Filiano while the leader slides his brushes over the snare drum and cymbals.

Jeff Cosgrove gathers master musicians, does not impinge on what artists such as Scott Robinson and Ken Filiano do best, and adds his own special spices to create quite the tasty stew.  There is power, intelligence, and delight at play in this music. It's challenging music for sure but the challenges reap many rewards.

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Here's a taste of this Trio's music:

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