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3x3: Piano Trios: April 2020

Geno Thackara By

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Andy Milne
The Re:Mission
Contrology Records
2020

Though Andy Milne actually hasn't recorded in the classic trio format before, you'd never know it just from The Re:Mission. He's been no slouch in many other settings, from supporting Cassandra Wilson or Steve Coleman to the genre-mashingly ambitious Dapp Theory quintet. Having always had a dream of trying this particular classic format, and invigorated after a 2018 fight with cancer (hence the title), he decided it was finally time to form a working group and take the plunge. This cheerful session shows Milne's skills undimmed and how happy he is to bounce back -a promising first trio outing and hopefully far from his last. He settles comfortably into this smaller-than-usual combo without feeling any unnecessary pressure to fill in any space. The disc is bookended with fresh colorful takes on two well-traveled standards, while the all-original program in between puts his breadth of imagination on colorful display.

McCoy Tyner's "Passion Dance" serves as both statement of intent and a sizzling-hot hard-bop opener, while the subtler followup "Resolution" slows right down and lets the three freely wander in empty space. Milne continues building his pieces with an eye on form as much as melody. "Vertical on Opening Night" exists in an almost mantric quiet zone as John Hébert's bass provides the closest thing it has to a lead; with "Dancing on the Savannah" it's half intricate dance and half abstract travelogue. In any mode it's a rich listen reflecting a wealth of colors and feelings. The trio walk a series of fine lines (or rather skip an exciting musical hopskotch course) between jazz history and Milne's own forward-thinking forms, never failing to happily challenge and inspire.

Day Dream
Originals
Corner Store Jazz
2020

There's airy reverie aplenty in the course of this hour, though with such a wealth of history and experience among them, Day Dream's daydreams could never be merely as simple as that sounds. Phil Haynes, Steve Rudolph and Drew Gress have decades under their belts crossing from one stylistic setting to another and another, and it's only inevitable their composing skills would produce dynamic pieces ranging just as wide. On the surface it's approachable for any curious ears to enjoy, true enough, while the members' playing and composing skills show a wealth of subtlety underneath.

After a coolly lush debut and a program of standards recorded behind singer Nick Horner, the group's all-original third outing deliberately heads for territory of their own. Originals has them wandering from familiar jazz (the likes of "Vesper" evoke the worldly soul of Bill Evans) to brisk grooving (the funk-ish bass showcase "Spell," the aptly titled "Bossa 21") or timeless heartfelt balladry (try to remain unaffected by "Last Lullaby"). The session benefits from the players' long collaborative history as much as their complementary voices at the writers' table; with such depth behind it, the resulting series of dreams is a fascinating one indeed.

Lara Driscoll
Woven Dreams
Self Produced
2020

The dream theme is equally vivid in the case of Lara Driscoll's debut, this time in a manner befitting her history and multicultural background. Woven Dreams finds her feeling contemplative, hopeful and naturally somewhat bittersweet in the circumstances (capping off her time finishing a jazz-performance degree before life took the trio away in different directions). The recordings revolves around duality: her own feeling of being split between two hometowns, the feelings of looking backward and forward, combining tradition-honoring new compositions with clever variations on old standards.

Driscoll's academic roots show through in her deconstructive approach; Woven Dreams eases in with a lugubrious "Autumn in New York" that sets the well-known melody over some shifting harmonic dressings. "Airport Limbo" (a piece themed around the feel of living in two places) drifts from loping rhythmic bounds to vaguely dissonant wanderings and back. The centerpiece pays respectful homage to Fred Hersch while meditating on the theme of depression: it's a largely positive testament that smartly weaves the thematic thread in ways overt and subtle. Driscoll sounds like a worldly old soul rather than a first-time leader; Dreams shows the wide musical appetite befitting a world traveler and the smarts to pull it off with elegance.

Tracks and Personnel

The Re:Mission

Tracks: Passion Dance; Resolution; Winter Palace; Vertical on Opening Night; Drive By -The Fall; Anything But Anything; Dancing on the Savannah; The Call; Geewa; Sad to Say.

Personnel: Andy Milne: piano; John Hébert: bass; Clarence Penn: drums.

Originals

Tracks: Zebra (For Claude); Wedding Waltz; Beloved Refracted; Afterward; Vesper; Last Lullaby; Spell; Bossa 21 (For Katie); Paul -Christian; Let Fly.

Personnel: Drew Gress: bass; Phil haynes: drums; Steve Rudolph: piano.

Woven Dreams

Tracks: Autumn in New York; Siblings; Airport Limbo; Forgiving -Black Dog Skirts Away: I. Forgiving; Forgiving -Black Dog Skirts Away: II: Black Dog; Forgiving -Black Dog Skirts Away: III. Skirts Away; O Morro Não Tem Vez (Favela); Mamy Adieu; Trespassers; Isfahan; Just One of Those Things; ECMT Intro; ECMT Blues; Woven Dreams.

Personnel: Player Lara Driscoll: piano; Dave Laing: drums; Paul Rushka: bass.

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