The last we heard from pianist/composer Roger Kellaway was last year, when he dazzled the world with his remembrances as Bobby Darin's musical director (undoubtedly timed to coincide with the release of the Darin biopic Beyond The Sea. Now, we have a dramatic and long-needed tribute to the "drum-less" piano trio (guitar/bass/piano) that dates back to sessions from Art Tatum, Django Reinhardt, the King Cole Trio, and most especially the Oscar Peterson Trio, pre-Ed Thigpen when first Barney Kessel and then Herb Ellis occupied the guitar chair alongside bassist Ray Brown.
Kellaway explains the importance of the "drum-less" trio by noting that "...the difference between a trio with guitar and one with drums is immeasurable. With drums, the pianist is responsible (with the bassist, of course) for the harmony, but guitar is a chorded instrument, and harmonic clashes have to be avoided. The piano-guitar-bass trio is like a chamber-music group. There's more intimacy in the interaction...."
It seems pretty obvious that, although Roger Kellaway has cited several jazz musicians as models, his primary influence was the Oscar Peterson trio, although the are specific references to the King Cole trio ("I Was Doing All Right") and Django Reinhardt ("Nuages"). Save for a Kellaway original, "I'm Smiling Again," the other tunes were recorded by the Peterson group. Kellaway is utilizing the same trio that he worked with on the Bobby Darin project (bassist Dan Lutz and guitarist Bruce Forman). Forman remains one of my favorite underappreciated plectrists, having recorded most of his dozen albums in the 1980s. Kellaway further notes that this is a working trio, and thus he is out spreading the word of the "drum-less" trio as we speak.
The album begins with Benny Golson's "Killer Joe," where Forman takes the melody line before handing it off to Kellaway for a rollicking solo. Then on an up-tempo romp through the Ellington classic "Cottontail," both the guitarist and pianist are featured with sparkling solo work. Appropriately, Forman is given the head on Reinhart's "Nuages," while Forrest and Washington's "Night Train" closely follows the Peterson trio version.
Although the ballad work here is limited, it is noteworthy. In addition to "Nuages" and most of Oscar Peterson's "Hymn To Freedom" (played by solo piano until the trio joins in), the Lionel Hampton "Midnight Sun" is given a sleek reading.
Personnel: Roger Kellaway: piano; Bruce Forman: guitar; Dan Lutz: bass.