The body of music collectively known as “standards” consists of old show tunes, pop songs, and contributions to the jazz songbook by some of the most important composers and improvisers in the history of the music. These works became known as standards because they represented a musical lingua franca,
a common language of shared cultural references, a well-spring from which any number of musicians who had never before met could draw in order to communicate their ideas.
Standards remain a large part of the language of jazz, even though many younger listeners are no longer familiar with the original songs themselves. An increasing number of contemporary musicians are looking to more recent sources – including the music of Björk, Nirvana, and Radiohead, just to name a few – for material that they hope might engage a new audience for jazz. Still, the standards persist.
Standardized is the debut recording by the Adrian Cohen Trio, and as the title suggests, it consists entirely of standards. In lesser hands, such a program might sound generic. Fortunately, pianist/leader Adrian Cohen is an extraordinary musician possessed of an equally impressive musical imagination. While his light touch reflects the influence of Bill Evans, Cohen is an artist well on his way to developing a unique voice on his instrument. Cohen, who studied under the remarkable Lee Shaw, has a marvelous sense of time and an almost conversational tone. His playing is confident and swinging, and it is clear that he will go far.
Drummer Pete Sweeney is a seasoned pro who has performed with such notables as Nick Brignola, Larry Coryell, and Duke Robillard. His skillful stickwork acts as a rhythmic foil to Cohen, always engaging the listener with his tasteful accents and fills. Bassist Michael DelPrete is the youngest member of the group, but is hardly the least of them. In fact, he seems mature beyond his 23 years. It will be interesting to see where this young man’s talent takes him.
Like any good piano trio, this group functions as a single entity, while still highlighting each member’s unique skills on his instrument. Each track is fully realized. Highlights from this disc include a lovely reading of John Coltrane’s “Naima” and a funky version of Miles Davis’s “Nardis” (which adds a Latin kick to the familiar tune). Dave Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way” is taken at a brisk pace, while Cohen and crew ably navigate the complexities of Dizzy Gillespie’s “BeBop” and Thelonious Monk’s “Rhythm-a-ning.”
That Cohen is able to convincingly tackle Monk, Brubeck, and Gillespie without sacrificing his identity says a great deal about his talent and his abilities as an arranger, as each song is refreshed through Cohen’s performance. This is an auspicious debut for an emerging talent.