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Like far too many others, Bob Szajner serves as a reminder of how much jazz has been forgotten or overlooked. A popular player on the Detroit scene intermittently over several decades, Szajner distilled a piano style that brought together the blues and the innovations of Bill Evans in a popular form. This feel is readily apparent on Live at the Detroit Montreux Jazz Festival 1981, recorded in the early days of what has since become a major stop on the festival circuit.
In his piano solos Szajner swings with a calm, urbane feel, like Erroll Garner on a day off. At other times, his sound recalls a later Bill Evans being pushed by a more conventionally swinging band. The rhythmic feel is in place throughout, supplying the listener with confidence: you're in the presence of someone who knows the music here.
The members of his trio follow suit, playing in the style of the era. Frank Isola mildly inflects his percussion with a Tony Williams-esque pop sensibility on the ride cymbal, staying mostly within the realm of early sixties drumming. Ed Pickens plays upright with the broad, warm sound most popular with bassists at the time.
Szajner's compositions are entertaining pieces without being novel. Both harmonically and rhythmically, he has engineered scaffoldings that swing hard without demanding too much from the listener. The album's project is something of a pastiche, with songs emulating the styles of a variety of influences, from Bill Evans to McCoy Tyner. Throughout, though, the pianist retains the same energy, never fully copying another's technique, and returning repeatedly to the conventions of seventies jazz harmony.
Several of the pieces offer a kind of promise, when imagined in another setting. "Shadows" draws equal parts from the slick, pentatonic blues of Stanley Turrentine and the laid-back minor swing of "Stolen Moments." One can envision the richness that might be added to a composition like this if played by an ensemble with horns.
Although one could hope for higher sound qualitythe recordings balance at times leaves something to be desiredthere's a distinct ambience to this concert. Outdoors, late summer, casual, but clearly enjoyed by the audience, the Szajner Triad provides a pleasant, breezy kind of jazz.
Track Listing: For Evans Sake; Pause for Hawes; Three Four Montreux; Just a Touch Up; Prayer Meetin'; Travesty; Isolation; Shadows; Class Conscious; Simple as That; Unreal McCoy.
Personnel: Bob Szajner: piano; Ed Pickens: bass; Frank Isola: drums.