Trio East may be a new name to the general jazz population, but with efforts such as Stop-Start
, that is about to change. Rich Thompson, Clay Jenkins, and Jeff Campbell all teach at the Eastman School of Music, in addition to performing with musicians like Harold Danko, James Williams, Gene Bertoncini, and Kim Richmond. Each brings a singular skill and presence to the recording.
How do you play music that is harmonically rooted and founded on traditional forms yet sounds rather unconventional? Form a horn trio with trumpet, bass, and drums, pick a nice variety of material to perform, and play the hell out it! With no piano or guitar to create the chord structure, harmony is implied through a skillful choice of notes and nuance. In addition, with only two voices on scale-based instruments, drums take on an entirely different role.
Thompson does a brilliant job of filling in spaces while playing with dynamics and finesse. He consistently shows an understanding of when to be supportive and when to show some dazzle. Campbell is rock solid while contributing well-constructed and intelligent solos. Jenkins shoulders the horn role with aplomb, not an easy task as the lone "customary" melodist. Give and take flows in a relaxed manner, giving the seriousness of the tunes an appealing sense of ease.
Three of the compositions were penned by Jenkins, in addition to tunes by Coltrane, Gillespie, Ornette Coleman and Lee Morgan. Mal Waldron's wonderful "Soul Eyes is the set's only ballad, included as a tribute to Waldron, who passed away just before this was recorded. It is an apt reminder of the gifts Waldron left for us to enjoy.
The title cut is a brisk interpretation that alternates between swing and Latin feels. "Happy House gives Campbell an opportunity to express his thoughts with brushes in up-tempo fashion, a nice change from their conventional place in jazz. Jenkin's "Late Bloomer is the most adventurous piece, starting out slowly with lone trumpet and shifting into periods of rapid tempo, dominant bass lines, and various combinations of instrumentation.
On "Con Alma the trio sets up an interesting metric feel of 4 against 6 while exhibiting considerable skill with harmonic outlines. The two Coltrane tunes, "Up Against the Wall, taken as a slow blues, and "26-2, a nice bop burner, give the men plenty of room to explore and trade ideas. By framing the tunes as they do, one is left wondering if a piano is missed at all.
Taken as whole, this date is a refreshing and challenging endeavor. Playing is excellent all the way through. Recording quality reminds one of the old Blue Note dates. The bass is slightly subdued, certainly not a major flaw. For fans of traditional jazz styles played with contemporary skill and knowledge, this set is worthy of your attention. Drummers everywhere will enjoy this one... check it out; you will not be disappointed!