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3x3: Piano Trios: March 2021

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In need of an extra ray of sunshine, or perhaps feeling good already and looking for something that'll suit? Fortunately this month's roundup (slightly belated or not) should more than have you covered.

Philippe Lemm Trio
First Steps
Outside In Music
2021

Where it might be natural enough for a jazz combo to glide or swing through a session, the Philippe Lemm Trio prefers to dance. It's apparently in Lemm's blood: the leader was a dancer before taking up the drums, and First Steps figuratively jumps and stomps all over the place in much the same way. Built over a decade of working together, the trio's playful freedom of movement is seemingly effortless and always delightful.

While the title sounds odd for such a long-established group, Lemm explains that it comes from the uncertainty of pandemic life and isolation: "We had to practice slow-dancing by ourselves and learn to maneuver without reference." This session also marks an unfortunate last step, as it was pianist Angelo di Loreto's final recording before his sudden death in late 2020.

Despite all that, First Steps remains an uplifting testament to this lineup's life and a bright response to these strange times. With Lemm's frisky rhythms leading the dance, the trio turns practically every idea into a romp. They certainly love their threes and sixes, managing to glide like the breeze even while adapting Joni Mitchell and Peter Gabriel selections to waltz time (or occasionally 5/8). A traditional Bulgarian song makes a lovely rootsy treat near the end. Other folky bits and pieces provide more exotic touches with the roiling cha-cha of di Loreto's "Malambo" making another body-moving highlight. The sound also gets a dash of tonal spice from vibes and extra percussion in a couple of places. Whatever the pattern, the steps are always fun and invigorating.

Yoko Miwa Trio
Songs of Joy
Ubuntu Music
2021

When it comes to truly turning silver linings into sunshine, Yoko Miwa takes the cake. Losing a parent would have been a hard enough event even without the disruptions of pandemic life. Still, the pianist and her superb trio respond to these circumstances by acknowledging the bitter yet hearty while focusing on the sweet. This aptly-titled outing puts her boisterous rhythmic sense and beautiful melodicism to good use in celebrating all kinds of emotional shades.

While Miwa's own "Largo Desolato" is inspired by the sight of unusually empty city streets, Scott Goulding and Will Slater still crackle with the energy of a whole block party hopping like mad. The same feeling is present in several other originals as well as jaunty readings of Richie Havens and Thelonious Monk. Billy Preston's titular "Song of Joy" comes out subtly radiant. At other times the loneliness hits harder, and more thoughtful moments like "Lonely Hours" bring out this special mood most eloquently. Thanks to the band's inspiring carpe-diem spirit—not to mention simply getting to play in the same room for the first time in months—it's mostly a gorgeous whirl that reminds us to always enjoy the bright side.

Arne Torvik Trio
Northwestern Songs
Losen Records
2021

While it's something of a wind-down from the selections above, in its own understated way, Northwestern Songs is no less joyful. The sound and mood are more locally based and follow smoothly from the leader's debut, Northwestern Sounds (Self-Produced, 2016). The ever-present Nordic roots give a beautifully patient and elegant angle to this follow-up. This is an album not just easy on the ears but good for the soul.

Torvik's melodies are timelessly folky while the arrangements create a dreamy mood. The rhythm section walks, bounces, and happily thumps without disrupting the lovely tone of meditation. Somehow this is the sound of nature as much as jazz, making for a contented yet playful experience.

Tracks and Personnel

First Steps

Tracks: The Kiln; Mica; River; Malambo; August; Elysian Voices; Kalief; Don't Give Up; Trenke Todorke; Caffeinated Souls.

Personnel: Philippe Lemm: drums; Angelo di Loreto: piano; Jeff Koch: bass; Simon Moullier: vibes (1, 7); Keita Ogawa: percussion (5).

Songs of Joy

Tracks: Freedom; Largo Desolato; Song of Joy; Small Talk; The Lonely Hours; No Problem; The Rainbirds; Think of One; Inside a Dream; Tony's Blues; Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You.

Personnel: Yoko Miwa: piano; Will Slater: bass; Scott Goulding: drums.

Northwestern Songs

Tracks: Compromises; Psalm; First Song; Åpent Rom; Home; Iver; Johan.

Personnel: Arne Torvik: piano; Bjørnar Kaldefoss Tveite: bass; Øystein Aarnes Vik: drums.

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