(Pirouet Records PIT3083)
There are the piano trios that get all the attention – you know who they are, and I am not for a moment suggesting they don’t deserve that attention – and then there are the ones who carry on, all too often in the background and outside of that limelight, who deserve just as many accolades, just as many column inches of print and just as many record sales. This is one.
Brooklyn-born pianist Kenny Werner, Philadelphia-born drummer Ari Hoenig and Heidelberg-born double bassist Johannes Weidenmüller have been a trio for 15 years now, and this latest recording shows an extraordinary intermingling of three musical minds – and hearts too.
The opener is Try To Remember – not your conventional jazz standard, it’s a gossamer light show tune which can easily slip into mush. In the hands of Werner, Hoenig and Weidenmüller it moves through a set of transformations, beginning indeed gossamer light but as a fresh, musing, composerly piano solo hinting at snippets of the tune before slowly consolidating into the trio. Hoenig brushes the cymbals and Weidenmüller uses harmonic accents as the melody is affectionately caressed before the trio heads off in what conventionally might be a piano solo, but so integral are the bass and drums contributions that it feels more like a three-way set of variations. Steadily the groove builds until bass and drums are alternately swinging hard or heading back with Werner into that more pointillistic variation mode. And then, miraculously, at the very end as the seven-minute mark is approaching, the trio moves into a calypso rhythm and ends just as Sonny Rollins’ St Thomas does!
The rest of the album is this good. There are four Werner originals – strong, strong compositions full of heart and wit – plus interpretations of John Coltrane’s 26-2 and Dave Brubeck’s In Your Own Sweet Way. The latter is another completely unexpected reading of a familiar tune, beginning with spiky, crunchy piano and bass improvisations before the melody is treated to tricky time changes and, again, swing alternating with spiky crunch.
Beauty Secrets, an older Werner composition, is a measured, reflective piece with a relatively simple theme given masterly harmony and with Hoenig adding judicious percussive drama as it builds into an almost-bolero. Balloons, Werner tells us, is inspired by a child’s birthday celebrations: “The song charts the trajectory of the balloons from when they were bouncing against the ceiling until the depressing point when they were hovering just off the floor.” It is eloquently programmatic in its progression. The marvellously titled Voncify The Emulyans (Werner doesn’t just make up music) is another prime example of a band mixing the rhythms up with the same innovation they bring to bear on melody and harmony, and somehow still keeping it coherent. Ultimately of course, as the album title states, all three musicians are skilful melodists, and this is the key to making their music so welcoming.
An absorbing, deep and thoroughly wonderful piano trio disc, beautifully recorded and presented by this fine young German record label.
Categories: CD review
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