The difference between jazz improvisation and composed variations on a theme is that the former is dynamic, while the latter is static. In jazz, improvisation amounts to "spontaneous composition," where a melodic variation over a harmonic skeleton occurs instantly. Improvisations on a theme in this sense are not written down prior to being played. However, these same improvisations can be transcribed after a performance (from a recording). This is what pianist Steven Mayer did on his Art Tatum - Improvisations
(Naxos, 2004). Now, classical pianist Frederick Moyer, with Peter Tillotson on bass and Peter Fraenkel on drumscollectively known as the Jazz Arts Trioextend this paradigm to the jazz trio on Tribute
is a collection of 11 famous trio performances transcribed from their recordings by the trio members. The collection is appropriately heavy on Oscar Peterson, whose recordings provide six of the selections. The remaining five pieces were parceled among Erroll Garner, Bill Evans, Vince Guaraldi, Horace Silver and Herbie Hancock. On one hand, there's the temptation to think that performing a completely transcribed jazz performance would be a futile exercise. On the other hand, it is not so different from what classical performers do day in and day out.
While novel at this level, the Jazz Arts Trio's transcriptions and recital are compelling. The trio's performance of the transcription of Bill Evans' 1961 Village Vanguard version of "My Foolish Heart" illustrates the chops and artistry of its members. Moyer proves a careful study of piano styles. His play on Evans has the same light, ethereal touch of the originator, like a wisp of mist. Tillotson's Scott LaFaro impersonation is impressive, if understated, and Fraenkel's Paul Motian is dead on.
To be sure, Bill Evans and Oscar Peterson were very different pianists; Peterson being virile and physical, while Evans is quiet and introspective. This makes Moyer's accomplishment, well, that much more accomplished. Versions of Peterson's "Tin Tin Deo" from Easy Walker
(Prestige, 1969) and "Bossa Beguine," from Blues Etude
(Limelight, 1965), illustrate both Peterson's rhythmic genius and Moyer's considerable chops.
Moyer approaches these different pianists as he would approach pieces by different composers. The sum of the experience is an increased appreciation for the original performances, and the Jazz Arts Trio's ability to readily summon them up.
Personnel: Frederick Moyer: piano; Peter Tillotson: bass; Peter Fraenkel: drums.