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3x3: Piano Trios: July 2019


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It must unofficially be the year of the piano trio or something. They just keep coming, and thankfully each new one is still stimulating and surprising.

Onwards and Upwards
ACT Music

The name means "three," simply enough, and Shalosh is all about embodying that ideal of unity as a humble and mutually supportive unit. Less obviously on the surface (though just as importantly), they're all about getting under the hood and getting their hands dirty. On their excited and exciting sophomore outing they don't really stretch songs, but rather take them apart to examine the works.

The two non-originals (covering golden-age Broadway and 80s pop, of all things) makes the most obvious examples as the trio unwinds the form, allowing themselves to drift and almost lose sight of the shore because they know they won't lose sight of each other. The same is just as true of their own pieces, however, which are both smartly written and arranged with plenty of space to wander.

Onwards and Upwards opens with a roiling jolt, winds down with a beautiful meditation and never stops that fun game of let's-see-where-we-can-take-this in between. A tribute to Ahmad Jamal offers a dose of old-time stride that sparkles with the subject's trademark brightness, though this trio's sights are most clearly fixed on shaping directions for the future. It's not clear what those are going to be—they probably don't know yet themselves—but it's going to be a happy surprise to find out.

Matt Slocum
Losen Records

Matt Slocum's title here is an apt one. This group creates a pleasant musical cocoon right from the easy-swaying contentedness of their thoughtful opener. While the following tracks occasionally lean slightly more brisk, the vibe stays warm and comfortable as a well-furnished den. The players feel safe in bantering and prodding each other amiably rather than merely coasting through some comfortable paces.

Sanctuary gently bounces and sometimes even swaggers enough that there's no risk of the three getting lazy, even at the pace of a leisurely stroll. Gerald Clayton handles the heads/melodies naturally enough, sometimes ambling in step with Larry Grenadier so that it becomes a joint lead with an assured lack of urgency. For the closing "Anselmo" the affair gets as lively as it's going to: still an easygoing mid-tempo stroll, and a sweet note to take us out to the finish. When your haven is this cozy, what's the hurry?

Ilugdin Trio
Losen Records

Like a reflective pond, this trio tends toward the thoughtful and turns out not to be nearly as simple underneath as it seems. When they chug and churn, it's still with an airy feel that makes the coasting sound effortless. The pieces are built as evocative poems more than songs, evoking their themes with just structure as much as the actual notes. Eschewing spotlight solos, they'd rather build dynamics by using loud and quiet (see the subtly dramatic "Aura"), or leaving space (as in "Nocturne" or the quaint pastoral "Old Town").

There are times when the trio coasts in a pleasant 5/4 or 7/4. The titular centerpiece on the other hand jiggers a pattern of four so that it sounds like something odd instead, also finding time for a chamber-ish build and crescendo before floating breezily down to earth. Two smart-sounding "Prelude" pieces keep it to simple, wistful unadorned melodies instead. Reflection is certainly as thoughtful as it looks, and generally with a streak of sunshine and playfulness. It's a beautiful one in any mode.

Tracks and Personnel

Onwards and Upwards

Tracks: After the War; Children of the '90s; Meditation; You'll Never Walk Alone; The Impossible Love Story of Jackie and Hanan; Sinan and His Never Ending War Against the Bureaucracy Robots; Take on Me; Tune for Mr. Ahmad Jamal; Lullabye; Onwards and Upwards.

Personnel: Gadi Stern: piano, Rhodes & micro Korg; David Michaeli: double bass; Matan Assayag: drums.


Tracks: Romulus; Consolation Prize; Aspen Island; Star Prairie; A Dissolving Alliance; Days of Peace; Sanctury; Anselmo.

Personnel: Gerald Clayton: piano; Larry Grenadier: bass; Matt Slocum: drums.


Tracks: Transformability; Nocturne; Prelude #4; Reflection; Old Town; Aura; Prelude #3.

Personnel: Dmitry Ilugdin: piano; Victor Shestak: double bass; Petr Ivshin: drums.

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