|Who needs another piano trio recording?!
In recent years we have had a plethora, a myriad, some might even say a surfeit of recordings of this most “classic” of all jazz group formats. We've had it all, from virtuoso piano with “rhythm” to the most intricate interplay of three equal partners, the latter a fruit of the innovations instigated by the legendary Bill Evans Trio around 1960. (In order to counterbalance the fully deserved preponderance of Evans/LaFaro/Motian in this context, mention should be made of a remarkable, one-off recording made by that quiet revolutionary, that incessant explorer of sounds unknown, that singular yet underappreciated piano stylist, that universal musical genius, Duke Ellington, on September 17, 1962 in the unlikely company of the unruly, stunning virtuoso Charles Mingus and the deceptively quiet, yet unpredictable percussion master Max Roach. The resulting "Money Jungle" is one of the unsung masterpieces of piano trio playing beyond category.)
So,why this recording?
Just above I wrote that “we've had it all.” Or have we? In fact, one rarely traveled road within the piano trio realm of the past 50 years has been the one of completely free improvisation. Quite possibly, the “classic” status of this particular configuration might have worked as a deterrent. However, the three valiant souls on this most exciting recording were not to be intimidated. Instead, they bravely took up the double challenge of facing the great tradition of the piano trio within a totally free context.
I have always been a reluctant writer of liner notes because I am convinced that it is impossible to talk about music itself. We can merely hope to articulate our perceptions and feelings regarding this divine art. In addition, I am not at all sure if the people who listen to the music on this CD, that is, listeners familiar with the complexities and intricacies of free improvised music, really need or really want liner notes. So all this writer can hope for is to find some generous soul out there willing to devote a few minutes of precious time to reading, and ideally sharing, some necessarily subjective impressions.
From the word go, “Wild Analysis” inexorably draws the listener right into the middle of things, avoiding the all-too-frequently encountered pitfalls of a lot of free improvisation: No tentative groping about in the dark here! Instead, we get instant, vigorous, and true interaction, not mere articulation, a sure sign of three past masters at play, and a strong, daring opening statement.
“Nightwings” conjures up nocturnal sounds and visions, with Marilyn exploring the inside of the piano and Ken providing a yearning counterpoint.
“The Eternal Present” exerts a strong onward momentum within a very free framework, the music never losing its footing, its sense of direction and purpose. No mean feat! Here, Marilyn displays the same admirable qualities as her eminent compatriot, Paul Bley, who always knows where he is going, no matter how free the context is. And listen to Lou swinging his ass off without reverting to a straight 4/4!
“The Dance Within” is an exploration of subtlety, of minimalist shading, a study in pianissimo, a celebration of the beauty of acoustically created sounds, the lyrical highlight of the CD. Listen to Marilyn's crystalline, lambent, limpid tone, Ken's supple bass and Lou's light-as-a-feather percussion.
For me, “Skies Spin Round” is the nodal point of the disk, with all its different strands gravitating towards this spinning, revolving centre. Ostinatos develop into vamps that are drawn into a dizzying, hypnotic vortex. Amazing how clearly structured this wild spin is, with Marilyn, Ken, and Lou all strongly contributing to producing instant composition as opposed to an arbitrary free for all.
Coco Schulmann, a Jewish-German jazz guitarist who survived the Nazis, says it all in his autobiography Der Ghetto-Swinger. Eine Jazzlegende erzählt: “Once a man learns to swing, he can never march again.” The same goes for the players in this trio, including the lady!
“Samphire” is a tasty pickle of slowly building tension, with tangy sonorities echoing off each other.
The brief, quiet piano/bass duo of “World of Shades” is the calm before the storm, leading up to the tempest of the penultimate track, with every one of the participants spreading their arms wide to embrace and respond to the others' ideas and thoughts. A prime example of reception and masterful, split-second response, this track is also a veritable tour de force of enormous, almost unbearable tension.
After this emotionally draining yet bracing experience, “The Skitterbug” is a marvelously quirky, laconic postlude that leaves you wanting more.
When Lou sent me the CD master, I was going through a personally very difficult time, and it is my sincere desire to extend Lou's wish to me to everyone listening to this wonderfully egoless yet coll ectively immensely powerful music: “It’s my wish that you not only “like” the music but that it serves the higher purpose of soothing your spirit.” Amen to that.
So, who needs another piano trio recording? We do. Most emphatically. This one. Enjoy!