From the earliest years of jazz, the trio has been a favorite group and even in today’s infinitely more varied jazz scene that popularity remains. Most often, the three instruments in a jazz trio have been piano, bass and drums, but there are numerous exceptions. Among these an especially popular format is the trio that combines piano, guitar and bass. For a spell in the 1950s and 1960s, there were several popular organ, guitar and drums groups (a format that has recently again found favor, this time with a new generation of fans). There have also been groups formed with piano and drums collaborating with a leading horn, most commonly clarinet or saxophone although in the latter case it was the quartet that quickly became the standard. Sometimes, interesting variations in instrumentation of the trio occur and these include line ups such as saxophone, violin and trumpet; vibraphone, guitar and bass; saxophone, guitar and bass; saxophone, bass and drums; guitar, bass and drums. Many examples leap readily to mind and among them are trios led by (alphabetically) Anthony Braxton, Nat King Cole, Bill Evans, Jimmy Giuffre, Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Coleman Hawkins, Ahmad Jamal, Gene Krupa, Brad Mehldau, Red Norvo, Oscar Peterson, Sonny Rollins, Jimmy Smith, Art Tatum, Tony Williams, Teddy Wilson.
Other suggested names to pursue can be found by logging on to Wikipedia’s look at jazz trios and following the many links.
New CDs by trios of one kind or another appear often and reviews of some of these follow. Also in the mix are several trio CDs that have been around for a little while but which remain very enjoyable. These include trios with ‘orthodox’ instrumentation, while others have interesting variations. The following are just a few examples (not in order of release or preference, but alphabetically):-
Dedicated from one fine pianists to another, this exceptional CD vividly displays the remarkable legacy of Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981) and at the same time makes clear that thanks to Geri Allen that legacy is in safe hands. Accompanied by bassist Buster Williams and drummer Billy Hart, Geri Allen constantly brings to mind just how good and advanced was Zodiac Suite, a Mary Lou Williams composition from 1945. Allen treats this masterly work with respect yet never loses its inherent vitality. This music is timeless. In addition to the suite's twelve movements, Allen also plays MLW's Intermission and, with Andrew Cyrille replacing Billy Hart, adds Herbie Nichols' The Bebop Waltz and Allen's own composition, the appropriately titled Thank You Madam. This thoroughly absorbing CD is strongly recommended to all who love good jazz piano playing.
FAB Trio History Of Jazz In Reverse (TUM Records CD 028)
This remarkable trio is decidedly unusual in its instrumental make-up: violin, bass, drums. The group is astonishingly powerful, and while couched in contemporary terms is replete with elements familiar to fans of most jazz styles. The trio’s name is taken from the initial letters of its members' names: the bassist is Joe Fonda, the drummer Barry Altschul, the violinist Billy Bang. All are virtuoso musicians yet have the ability to blend with one another, subordinating their often startling technical skills to the needs of the other group members and to the sound of the trio as a whole. At times, these musicians create a thunderous ensemble sound that suggests far more than just three men and their fluid interplay is testimony to a long association and the depth of their mutual understanding. Brilliant solos, matchless ensembles, this 2005 recording is masterly. Released in late 2011, this CD is one of the last recordings by Billy Bang, who died on 11 April 2011. Thanks to music like this, his name continues to resonate in the world of jazz and the FAB Trio is just that, Fab!.
Mike Greensill Live At The Plush Room (Pismo CD 101)
A fine pianist who has been around for many years, along the way Mike Greensill has built a striking reputation. He first opened ears while still a student at the Leeds College of Music in the north of England. After moving to the USA, Greensill became well known as an accompanist and in particular to singer Wesla Whitfield, to whom he is married. Together, the couple have appeared on more than 15 CDs. Here, though, the pianist is leader of a trio, the other members of which are bassist John Wiitala and drummer Donald Bailey. Throughout, Greensill makes vividly clear that he is an accomplished jazz pianist; and he also proves to be an intriguing singer. In the latter role, he delivers wryly observed versions of songs such as Bob Dorough's I've Got Just About Everything and Small Day Tomorrow. However, it is his work as piano soloist that confirms what those earlier opened ears noticed. Among his many gifts is his always melodic taste, which, underpinned with hard-driving swing, allows him to romp through an excellent live set. This is a fine CD that will be enjoyed by anyone who loves straightahead jazz played by a first-class musician who clearly knows a thing or two about the history of jazz piano.
Also, and briefly, there are new arrivals:-
Nick Moran No Time Like Now (Manor Sound 10661-1)
Here, guitarist Nick Moran teams up with organist Brad Whiteley and drummer Chris Benham for a set that mainly features the leader’s own compositions. The music is filled with emotional nuance and is played with understanding and subtle fire by three musicians of considerable talent. They think individually and collectively and deliver fascinating and grooving performances. (Release date: 6 March 2012)
Romain Collin The Calling (Palmetto PM 2156)
Here, French pianist Romain Collin teams up with bassist Luques Curtis and drummer Kendrick Scott to perform an intriguing set of his own compositions. The music is richly varied, ranging through impressionistic pieces to some that vividly offer aural reflections on moments that have clearly inspired their creator. Collin presents here music that is highly personal and yet accessible to all who hear it.
(Release date: 24 April 2012)
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