Through twenty years and thirteen albums, the String Trio of New York has made a name for itself on the new music / experimental edge of the jazz world. This new album, a collaboration with composer and pianist Anthony Davis, is the group's first to focus almost exclusively on jazz standards as opposed to original compositions. For an ensemble associated with the avant-garde, this is an extremely accessible, straight-ahead album, and it is a rousing success.
From the first notes of John Lindberg's funky, slap bass introduction to Duke Ellington's "Caravan," it is clear that this is not going to be just another run-of-the-mill rendering of familiar songs. Lindberg, guitarist James Emery, and violinist Regina Carter are all marvelously-talented musicians with a great feel for one another. The group handles the staccato rhythms and odd phrasing of Thelonious Monk particularly well on three tunes here, including a lovely version of "Ruby, My Dear" with beautiful solo work from Carter, Emery, and Davis. Also featured are two Ellington numbers and a swinging rendition of Mingus' "Peggy's Blue Skylight."
Although Davis has devoted most of his efforts in recent years to writing operas, he has certainly not lost his chops as a jazz performer. He is an elegant, expansive player who, given the brooding intellectualism of some of his past work, surprises a bit with his casually swinging contributions here.
The lone original number on the album is a long, specially commissioned composition by Davis. A slowly developing blues, of sorts, the piece has some interesting moments, but doesn't really fit well with the rest of the set. But for its outstanding musicianship, and its highly original and exciting takes on some classic material, this album is strongly recommended.