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Three of a Perfect Pair

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For the past decade or thereabouts, I've tried to organize "From the Inside Out" around one theme, to address in one column the different ways that different musicians perform on the same instrument, or in the same style or genre. But if there's one lesson that life seems intent on teaching, it's that music (like life) can rarely be organized so neatly. So let's take a smaller approach this time and pair up similar releases: by keyboard trios, instrumental ensembles that also incorporate vocals, and by larger, orchestral ensembles.

Jimmy Smith
Plays Fats Waller
Blue Note (RVG Edition)
2008

Fats Waller

Fats Waller
Fats Waller
1904 - 1943
piano
, whose rollicking contributions have enlivened the American songbook since the 1930s, once wrote, "Well, I really love the organ. I can get so much more color from it than the piano that it really sends me." About a generation later, Jimmy Smith fell in love with the Hammond B-3 organ.

Here in the company of guitarist Quentin Warren and drummer Donald Bailey (both of whom played on every Smith trio recording for five decades), the latter pays tribute to the former. Smith offers very little melodic, harmonic or rhythm improvisation, and seems to place some of Waller's most recognized and playful melodies behind airtight protective glass, museum pieces to be admired but not played with. Smith glides through "Everybody Loves My Baby" and neatly tucks in every edge and corner of "Squeeze Me"—too neatly, almost clinically.

Smith recites "Ain't She Sweet" using chord swells and inflections that only the Hammond B-3 can produce and adorns "Lulu's Back in Town" in slightly new, slightly blue threads before setting her off on a finger-snapping melodic stroll. Sections of "Honeysuckle Rose" intimate jazz and blues, but no more than that; in "Rose," and "Ain't Misbehavin,'" Smith swirls around rippling phrases to create sparkling, liquid pools of melody.

But the beat and tempo remain almost constant throughout, and for the most part it seems fairly obvious that Smith sets his engine running, tunes it a bit then coasts downhill through every tune. What seems much less obvious is how Jimmy Smith Plays Fats Waller could bring together two of the most flamboyant if not wild characters in the history of jazz organ, yet still result in music so boring and uninspired.

Lafayette Gilchrist
3
HYENA
2007

3 is pianist LaFayette Gilchrist's third album and his first trio release. He composed, arranged and throws every throbbing note down in the company of his Baltimore homeboys "Blue" Jenkins on bass and Nate Reynolds on drums. "The sound I was hearing in my head is coming from when I first heard Money Jungle," Gilchrist explains. "It's a trio record with Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
1899 - 1974
piano
, Charles Mingus
Charles Mingus
Charles Mingus
1922 - 1979
bass, acoustic
and Max Roach
Max Roach
Max Roach
1925 - 2007
drums
. To me, it sounds like an orchestra being played by a trio. I was inspired to make something that sounded big and grandiose just like that."

Mission accomplished. Gilchrist and crew, especially drummer Reynolds, who once pounded beats for soul legend "Wicked" Wilson Pickett, rock this music hard. Jenkins and Reynolds often play so hard and fast in counterpoint to Gilchrist's strong attack that their rhythms become runaway locomotives and you're often left to wonder how the pianist can keep pace. Somewhat amazingly, Gilchrist does, and resurrects in the process structuralist ghosts like Art Tatum

Art Tatum
Art Tatum
1909 - 1956
piano
and Cecil Taylor
Cecil Taylor
Cecil Taylor
b.1929
piano
(in "Volcano Red"), even Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
1917 - 1982
piano
("The Equizinator's Request").

Gilchrist cryptically yet insightfully annotates each song title, so you can read his description of "In Depth" as "The pride of James Brown

James Brown
James Brown
1933 - 2006
vocalist
and the depth of inquiry of Andrew Hill
Andrew Hill
Andrew Hill
1937 - 2007
piano
," and of "Volcano Red" as "It's the way I like my band to play, like a pot boiling over."

Gilchrist's rhythm section adds so much power and counterpoint to his playing that 3 often sounds like no other piano trio record. In the spry "Inside Outside," Gilchrist seems barely tethered to the rhythm section, and he gnaws on the introductory flurries of "Visitors" like a starving dog until the rhythm pumps up in volume and tempo, whipping his hands to play faster and faster.

"The Equizinator's Request" majestically rocks and just keeps rolling, careening and plummeting as if trapped in rapids, full of an exciting sense of the unexpected, and of rollicking and funky fun.


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