The small label Beezwax has done a big favor for jazz listeners by bringing together bassist Henry Franklin, drummer Steve Clover and pianist Marc Seales. While each player has carved out a distinctive niche in the jazz world – be it unsung solo works (Henry Franklin), academic residence (Marc Seales) or supporting roles for some of the most respected performers in jazz history (all three) – this unlikely trio performs with the kind of natural synergy that you would expect from a trio that's been playing together for decades.
Ears Wide Open is the trio's second effort together and the sound is acoustic jazz with a capital "A." Muscular double bass tones, terse drumming and purposeful thematic statements by the piano combine to create a sound that is as big as it is beautiful. A key contributor to this engaging sound is the trio's remarkable patience, permitting the room to breathe – or not breathe – as emotion dictates. This modulated tension-and-release is put to full advantage on a first rate version of John Coltrane's "Naima." Opening with a pure two-note, repeating harmonic statement by Seales, the song begins as a brightly colored impressionistic painting. But as the shifting tempos by Clover slowly contract the spaces, the song is transformed into a 4/4 improvisational canvas for the trio, onto which Franklin passionately applies light-fingered runs and tones that bend and stretch like rubber bands. It's an exhilarating display of color and emotion, all brought to a graceful conclusion through Seales" restatement of the theme.
There is more beauty to be found in Ears Wide Open, particularly in the gentle "Little Boy Blue," wherein Seales serenades the melody and Franklin plucks a disarmingly lovely solo, switching to bow for the final measures. A little in-studio noise threatens pristine atmosphere, but not enough to disrupt the mood. The Seales composition "Ascending Truth" strings glittering solos across ascending bass lines and is enhanced by Clover's use of the soft mallets. But these guys shine no matter what the tempo. The gospel structured Les McCann composition "A Little ¾ For God & Co." is wonderfully executed with soulful passages by Seales that mirror the brilliant blues of Gene Harris. The song is actually quite similar to the sound created by Charlie Haden on his 1994 release Steal Away and Franklin responds – whether intentionally or not – with with large, round tones. The trio's infectious take on Miles Davis' "No Blues" is highlighted by Seales call-and-response with himself as well as some delightful angular choruses (an approach strangely absent from the trio's cover of Monk's "Pannonica").
But the real capsule of this trio's intuitive energy is their imaginative cover of Wayne Shorter's "Anamaria." A tour-de-force-in-miniature, it reveals Clover and Franklin shifting tempos with incredible ease and each member of the trio contributing surprises to the rich, polyrhythmic texture of the song. In short, a pure democracy of jazz. What more could one ask of a trio?
Visit Beezwax on the web at www.beezwaxrecords.com .