John Hébert's skills as a bassist have been amply apparent for several years, in projects that have called on rock-solid tone, time and pitch to imaginative free improvisation. But Byzantine Monkey
(Clean Feed, 2009) demonstrated his substantial talents as a composer and bandleader, fronting a quintet/sextet dense in reeds and percussion. On Spiritual Lover
he's taken a different tack, leading a trio with French pianist Benoit Delbecq
(adding clavinet and analogue synth) and drummer Gerald Cleaver
Hébert has extensive experience playing with pianists, including regular performances with the late Andrew Hill
, and it's clearly a format to which he's given a great deal of thought. It's a trio of genuinely equal parts and plays music of great melodic strength, whether the tunes are etched by the warm, resonant hues of Hébert's bass or by one of Delbecq's keyboards. The group's independence of mind is apparent from the outset as it puts a distinct stamp on Hill's title track, adding eerie electronics and amplifying his complex rhythms with oddly anticipatory echoes.
Delbecq has established a reputation for prepared-piano work and it's apparent here in the thumb piano-like ostinato of his own "Ando." But his emphasis here is usually on the keyboard, whether developing rapid abstract, guitar-like lines on synthesizer ("Guacamole" or the set's sole standard, "Here's that Rainy Day") or developing a flowing lyricism with ambiguous harmonies that suggest the sublimated influence of Bill Evans
. Along with polyrhythmic energy, Cleaver uses bright cymbals to animate and amplify every turn in the music and he shares a consciousness of sound with Hébert and Delbecq that makes this trio a highly varied source of sounds. Hébert's "Cajun Christmas"reprised from Byzantine Monkey
develops a timbral palette that consistently complements its melodic strengths.
Personnel: John Hébert: bass; Benoit Delbecq: piano, clavinet and synthesizer. Gerald Cleaver: drums.