Like so many guys out there who are doing their thing without much fanfare or public recognition, forty-five year old pianist John Campbell has been active on the jazz scene long enough to be called a veteran. A native of the Chicago area, Campbell gained valuable mainstream experience through past gigs with Clark Terry and the Terry Gibbs/Buddy DeFranco ensemble, in addition to recording a few albums of his own back in the late ‘80s.
Workin’ Out is Campbell’s first set for Criss Cross, following a long pause between recordings as a leader. Far from the more traditional sounds that mark his work as a sideman, there’s a definite modern approach to the material at hand. In fact, five of nine tracks are modern gems from the catalogs of Herbie Hancock (“Maiden Voyage”), Chick Corea (“Steps” and “ Sea Journey”), Freddie Hubbard (“Sky Dive”), and Wayne Shorter (“Fall”). The longest track and the most impressive performance arguably comes with “Sky Dive,” as the tune’s extended form allows Campbell to stretch himself beyond bebop clichés and set harmonic patterns. On the other hand, even the more familiar lines find the pianist searching for new twists and turns in an effort to keep everyone on their toes.
When it comes to piano trio dates, the results often tend to be ordinary or extraordinary, without much middle ground in between. Aided and abetted by bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Billy Drummond, John Campbell’s Workin’ Out easily falls into the latter category. Never too clever for its own good or too polite, this disc’s a real keeper.