The title of the Keystone Trio's Newklear Music is deliciously pregnant with twin metaphors. The first is the play on Sonny Rollins' nickname "Newk" (a name he was ostensibly anointed with because of his resemblance to major league baseball pitcher Don Newcome). Rollins also represents a nuclear influence in Jazz. More compelling, however, is that this is a piano trio performance of Sonny Rollins compositions. The piano trio is the nucleus of the jazz ensemble, the proton, neutron, and electron, if you will. The piano trio can serve equally as the rhythm section of larger groups as well as a unit unto itself.
Newklear Music: The Songs of Sonny Rollins is a graceful and tastefully chosen journey through the Sonny Rollins Songbook. What struck me first about this collection was what compositions were not present. The only song I expected to be here was "Airegin," one of Rollins' earliest compositions. There is no "Doxy," "Oleo," "Sonnymoon for Two," "St. Thomas" or "Blue Seven." Instead, the Trio has thoughtfully taken a less traveled road of compositions that represent the whole of Mr. Rollins' elemental career.
Chronologically, the disc begins with "Airegin," originally recorded at the 1954 Miles Davis Bag's Groove session, and ends with the 1993 "Times Slimes" from Old Flames. Pianist Jon Hicks adds his own ballad, "Love Note for Sonny," as the closer.
The playing on this disc is impeccably light and tasteful. John Hicks plays with a rounder, more mainstream tone than he is most often known for. Bassist George Mraz has several stand out solos (most notably on "Wynton" and "Airegin"). Idris Muhammad, noted R&B drummer, plays the ballads with a feathery grace that is perfectly transparent without being lost in the performances. There is really not much "hot" playing on this disc. "Airegin," which has provided a barn-burning vehicle for many jazz musicians is taken at almost a walking, brisk ballad pace. "Tell Me You Love Me" has the tropical flavor of "St. Thomas" (get a load of the drum introduction and solo) without borrowing too heavily from that classic.
All trio performances are good, but some of them are better. This is as fine and well balanced a trio performance as the listener is likely to find. Highly recommended.
Personnel: John Hicks: Piano; George Mraz: Bass; Idris Muhammad: Drums.