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3x3: Piano Trios: February 2020


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Lynne Arriale Trio
Chimes of Freedom
Challenge Records

Where she last appeared happy and laughing on the cover of Give Us These Days (Challenge, 2018), Chimes of Freedom has Lynne Arriale looking a little more thoughtful and serious. The theme this time around is indeed a weighty one, but the sound isn't at all ponderous or overdone. It's a meditation on the state of American social issues and civil rights, both the recordings's contemporary circumstances and the decades of history that have led up to it. In the hands of this effusively melodic pianist and her trio, the beautiful emotional shades come alive as well as in any speech or acting performance you could imagine.

The drama hits here because they're so genuine and down-to-earth, as shown by the smoldering read of "Motherless Child" that opens things out. Arriale and the rhythm section patiently settle into the gospel classic and draw out its aching core of the blues with no need to emote. Powerful as the reading is, it pays off when bookended near album's end by "Reunion," which caps off the instrumental arc in a joyous tropical-tinged samba romp full of laughter.

There's plenty more emotional shading to be heard over the set, which follows a lovely dramatic arc from struggle to quiet triumph over its running time. If it seems odd to close such an eloquent instrumental album with two vocal numbers, well, the results work. Bob Dylan and Paul Simon—and you'd have a hard time finding two more quintessentially American voices—provide two selections that couldn't be more perfect for this theme. Both are deeply stirring pieces of heartland soul, captured by the trio's expressive warmth as much as KJ Denhert's soulful delivery. Packed with deep emotion and deeper humility, it's an affair as richly multi-hued as its subject deserves.

Sam Hirsh
Quite Frankly Introducing Sam Hirsh
Self Produced

There are any number of happy milestones to let you know you've reached a good point worth celebrating: hitting a round birthday, making one's first recording as leader, and perhaps appearing on an album cover in cool color tones straight out of a Riverside or Blue Note LP design. It's no wonder Sam Hirsh looks so happy in the snapshot for his debut. The snazzy Quite Frankly Introducing has him hitting that particular trifecta with impeccable class and style. There's tenor sax added for a little extra old-school vibe, such as the hard-bopping "No C!"—courtesy of Ralph Moore, who's played with the likes of Freddie Hubbard and Horace Silver—but for the most part it features the core three keeping everything sharp and snappy.

Perhaps perversely, the group turns slow and meditative on Jerome Kern's "Look for the Silver Lining," still making sure the warm rays are bright if charmingly understated. The players all serve that same tone throughout while generally keeping a spring in their step: however much the leader pounds and sweeps the keys, nobody feels crowded or misses a step. It wouldn't be hard to believe this was It's not hard to believe this was an obscure bop curio from Rudy Van Gelder's studio, but the program (apart from that Kern chestnut) is an all-original one with a fresh voice and a real-life story behind each song. He couldn't have been around to record in those days anyway, but no matter. At an exuberant 30, Hirsh happily promises plenty of good times ahead.

Eldar Djangirov
Twelve Tone Resonance

When you start out with all guns blazing, there's really nowhere to go but down—which is to say, when a young artist first makes a splash with lightning speed and staggering technical prowess, the arguably greater challenge is to stake out one's own sandbox while not relying on the flash. Fortunately, Eldar Djangirov has only developed that distinct voice further on each time out since the wild ride of his eponymous debut (Sony, 2005). The bafflingly precise virtuosity is still evident right from the blistering opener here (this "A Night in Tunisia" would have left even Dizzy Gillespie shaking his head in disbelief), while the performance nonetheless stays reined in enough to bring his multifaceted playing and evocative composing to new heights.

Appropriately enough, the kaleidoscopic title track is the most expansive highlight to be found here, presenting a vivid high-flying daydream with razor- sharp turns and loose grooving alike. Most other selections succeed by portraying more specific settings or moods instead. "Airport" shows the upside of traveling with lush brightness and briskness, while the trio is equally comfortable jumping from a moodily deconstructed '90s grunge cover straight into a sprightly Bach rearrangement mid-set. For each spot packed with rock-like rhythmic thump such as "Anthemic," there's a "Devotion" elsewhere that finds slower and subtler shades to explore. Showing the best kind of maturity, Djangirov continues to blend the magnificent showmanship with a deeper focus on head, hands and heart alike.

Tracks and Personnel

Chimes of Freedom

Tracks: Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child; Journey; The Dreamers; 3 Million Steps; Hope; The Whole Truth; Lady Liberty; Reunion; Chimes of Freedom; American Tune.

Personnel: Lynne Arriale: piano; Jasper Somsen: bass; E. J. Strickland: drums; K.J. Denhert: vocals (9, 10).

Quite Frankly Introducing Sam Hirsh

Tracks: Quite Frankly; Look for the Silver Lining; Pop's Delight; Lil' Mama Samba; Reminiscing; No C!; Kyoto Shuffle; Ways of the Wise; Song for Sophie.

Personnel: Sam Hirsh: piano; John Webber: bass; Kevin Kanner: drums; Ralph Moore: saxophone.


Tracks: A Night in Tunisia; Airport; Anthemic; Willow Weep for Me; Burn; Black Hole Sun; Variations on a Bach Prelude; In July; Rhapsodize; Devotion; Blackjack.

Personnel: Eldar Djangirov: piano; Raviv Markovitz: bass; Jimmy McBride: drums.

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