In the competitive world of the jazz trio, you have to distinguish yourself, or else you run the risk of fading into the background along with the countless others who may have a certain degree of talent, but lack the personal vision to lend their music the distinction necessary to draw listeners in for the long haul. Pianist Rex Cadwallader and his trio with electric bassist Mike Asetta and drummer Arti Dixon clearly have skill. But unfortunately, they demonstrate little to raise them above the larger milieu on their debut release, Quicker Than the Eye
. Author Stephen King once said, on the subject of writing, that you can drink champagne out of a piece of fine crystal or a Flintstone jelly glass. The drink's the same, but there is
And so, when listening to a new trio, one looks for that "ping of fine crystal; and as pleasant as Cadwallader and company are, as capable as they are of forging a contemporary sound that draws heavily on influences including Chick Corea, the Yellowjackets, and smooth jazz artists like Bob James and David Benoit, they ultimately sound too generic to elevate them and generate the kind of interest that makes one want to keep returning for more.
That's not to say that they aren't solid players. Cadwallader has a nice touch and attractive sense of voicing. His writing style ranges from the title track, which gives more than a small nod to Chick Corea's classic "Spain, to the 3/4 shuffle feel of "Now You See It, the up-tempo swing of "Prestidigitation, and the pop-like balladry of "Can You Keep a Secret. While he augments his piano sound with a number of electronic textures, Cadwallader uses them as icing on the cake, rather than the primary confectionmuch the same way as Yellowjackets keyboardist Russell Ferrante has created a more acoustically balanced sound in recent years. In fact, the whole recording tends to feel like Yellowjackets lite.
Asetta and Dixon are comfortable navigating Cadwallader's variety of rhythmic feels. Dixon has studied with Jack DeJohnette, and it shows in his looser approach to material like "Houdini, perhaps the most open-ended track of the set, and "Nothing Up My Sleeve, which begins with him plying his not-inconsiderable chops before settling into a comfortable medium-tempo blues. Asetta's firm sense of swing on "Dirty Tricks and seemingly out-of-nowhere dexterity on "...Now You Don't maintain, along with Dixon's assured and at times slightly untethered approach, a solid foundation over which Cadwallader can build his solos, which always demonstrate a clear sense of purpose.
The album is certainly accessible enough to appeal to a broad audience, and just as there's something to be said for a story well-told, there's also something to be said for engaging music well-played. Quicker Than the Eye may not have the unique voice to give it lasting power, but it's certainly a pleasant way to spend an hour. And sometimes that's enough.
Visit Rex Cadwallader and Mike Asetta on the web.
Personnel: Rex Cadwallader (piano, keyboards); Mike Asetta (electric bass); Arti Dixon (drums)