Lyricism and empathy provide the focus for pianist Lynne Arriale's Live. There's nothing wrong with reaching out to an audience with catchy melodies and accessible rhythms, as this trio makes clear. Arriale is supported by bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Steve Davisveteran players who, despite busy schedules, have made Arriale a priority since joining her on her debut, The Eyes Have It (DMP, 1993).
As is evident on Live, an audience that's properly engaged can be led almost anywhere. The trio's reading of "Bemsha Swing" begins in a free fashion that might, were this to be the main emphasis, scare them off. But by the time the musicians get to this classic tune toward the end of the set, they've already won over the audience at this 2005 performance in Germany. The trio moves synchronously between defined rhythms and temporal elasticitythe clear result of working together regularly.
But for the most part Arriale's set on this CD/DVD combo focuses on an elegant simplicity that belies greater skill. The traditional "Iko Iko" opens the set with a broken up kind of funk, and Arriale takes the familiar melody just the slightest bit out. Revolving around a three-note pulse, the piece provides a relaxed way for the trio and audience to warm up. There's a hint of Keith Jarrett in Arriale's approach, alluding to the iconic pianist's take on "God Bless the Child" from Standards, Vol. 1 (ECM, 1985). The trio takes similar liberties with the Beatles' classic "Come Together," which features understated but impressive solos from Anderson and Davis.
The set also includes Abdullah Ibrahim's "Mountain of the Night" and Victor Feldman's "Seven Steps to Heaven." But Arriale's own material seems surprisingly familiar, even when heard for the first time. "Flamenco" and "Braziliana" both reflect the titular references. On the latter, the set's most muscular and up-tempo tune, Arriale shows that she's capable of greater virtuosity when necessary, but never at the expense of the song itself.
The DVD component of Live contains a concert video of the same set, with the added standard "Alone Together," making the trio's intuitive camaraderie more tangible. It also features a 25-minute PBS documentary, Lynne Arriale: Portrait of a Performing Artist that, along with additional performance footage, also sheds light on Arriale's musical philosophy and thoughts on improvisation and composition. A fifteen-minute interview rounds out the picture.
With its combination of aural and visual concert footage, plus the added interview/documentary, Live provides a comprehensive look at Arriale. She may not be a musical groundbreaker, but she's able to create thoroughly enjoyable music which never sacrifices substance for accessibility. In her commitment to musical conversation, she treats the audience as the "fourth" member of her trio.
Personnel: Lynne Arriale: piano; Jay Anderson: bass; Steve Davis: drums.