The Nice Guy Trio: Here Comes the Nice Guy Trio (2009)
It's obvious just from this trio's compositiontrumpet, accordion, and bassthat something new is going on. It's also clear that to fully appreciate this boundary-busting CD, you must let go of your usual musical signposts. Even a taste for the wildest of free jazz won't prepare you for this music, since it's far too thoughtfully conceived and constructed. If you must have some category to file this under, try "Italian film music" (think Cinema Paradiso (1988) or Federico Fellini's more benign and bemused moments), or even, "cartoon soundtrack" (think Pink Panther (1963), with its satirical private-eye motifs and lighthearted jazz ). But more than cognitive flexibility, the full enjoyment of this CD requires a well-developed sense of humor, with a special fondness for the ironic and the droll.
Aside from being fun, Here Comes the Nice Guy Trio contains world-class playing, which, according to the press release, is "steeped in jazz" while "drawing from klezmer, blues, funk, calypso, country, Balkan, and Hindustani music." Leader Darren Johnstona 2009 "rising star" on trumpet, according to the annual Down Beat critics pollhas a clear, warm tone, impressive chops, and compelling ideas, and his swinging interplay with tabla player Sameer Gupta on "Apples" is one of the CD's many highlights. Classy bassist Daniel Fabricant and accordionist Rob Reich complete this empathetic trio. [Note: this is not your grandfather's accordion.]
This 57-minute set features nine band originals together with gleeful arrangements of a tune by Charles Mingus ("Fables of Faubus") and one by Ornette Coleman ("Folk Tale"). (The latter occasionally sounds like a demented practice session, which Coleman might well have approved.) The whimsical, changeable mood of this CD is telegraphed by its cinematic first track, Reich's "The Balancing Act," where things go from poignant ballad to comical march, and Fabricant occasionally impersonates a tuba. "Woeful" begins as wistfully as its title would predict, then opens into jubilant clarinet and trumpet solos and some fine, fast walking by composer Fabricant; it's essentially a miniature symphony, complete with short, separate movements. Every composition is melodic and memorable, with a tendency to stick in one's head long after the last note has faded away. It's also impossible to sit still while listening to "Unicycle Cocek."
"No matter what style we're coming from and referencing, we have our own way of playing together," says Johnston. "We can go anywhere and still sound like us." And this is a good thing, too, since their sound is full of heart, imagination, and wit.
Track Listing: The Balancing Act; Apples; Simple Life; Fables of Faubus; Woeful; See Ya; Folk Tale; Unicycle Cocek; Amy's Day; Off the Grid; Ducci Calypso.
Personnel: Darren Johnson: trumpet; Rob Reich: accordion; Daniel Fabricant: bass; Sameer Gupta: tabla (2, 10); Ben Goldberg: clarinet (3, 5); Alex Kelly: cello (3); Dina Maccabee: violin (3); David Phillips: pedal steel guitar (4, 9); Aaron Keirbel: dumbek, assorted drums (8).