The current standard for piano trio music was largely set in the '60s. Recordings by the Bill Evans Trio and the Wynton Kelly Trio, for example, established basic paradigms that have persisted until today. Today's popular trios led by young pianists such as Brad Mehldau and Jacky Terrason, for example, derive much of their style from this influential period.
Formations, a trio outing led by pianist Larry Bluth, falls in much the same category. It builds off jazz standards, either directly or indirectlyabout half the tunes on the record are standards, and the rest are originals derived from the chord changes of other standards. This is tight, swinging stuff: the group has the cohesion and maturity to maintain forward motion during quiet moments as well as times of passion. Formations combines the excitement of live improvisation with a surprising level of precision. Pianist Bluth's playing conveys an articulate, quick-minded eagerness. Drummer Bill Chattin, who mostly anchors a rock-solid swing, still manages to interject percolating snare rhythms on demand. Bassist Don Messina is perhaps the least interesting member of the trio, but his unassuming style plays a central stabilizing role.
The primary fault of this recording is that it fails to effectively distinguish itself from the vast sea of post-'60s traditional trio music. Stylistically, Formations resembles a lot of top-notch straight-ahead trio music. Each member of the group certainly has a distinctive voice, but the unit as a whole mostly treads down a well-worn path. While there are plenty of listeners who celebrate and cherish this kind of approach, my personal preference is for the music which steps out and breaks new ground.
Personnel: Larry Bluth, piano; Don Messina, bass; Bill Chattin, drums.