3x3: Piano Trios, vol. III

Geno Thackara By

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More evidence that three is truly a magic number, as explorations in this format remain as expansive and inventive as ever...

Fred Hersch Trio
'97 @ the Village Vanguard
Palmetto Records

Fine artists can aspire to appear in the Louvre someday. Comics might hope for a Las Vegas residency or a hosting spot on Saturday Night Live. The similar goal for quirky chefs might be a couple minutes of reality-show fame and a restaurant deal. To a jazz player, there are few comparable El Dorados like squeezing onto the shoebox-sized stage at New York City's legendary Village Vanguard. It's no surprise, then, that the Fred Hersch Trio showed a rare heightened excitement on the pianist's stint there as leader (the first with many to come) in 1997. The band had already developed something special in their own right after several years as a working unit, and they were doubtlessly only inspired more by a place where jazz history is soaked into the bricks. From the sound of this long-delayed release, the week must have been a delightful romp full of joy.

Hersch and Drew Gress patiently explore "My Funny Valentine" with exquisite care, bringing out the shades with an interplay vaguely reminiscent of Bill Evans and Scott LaFaro from decades before. The brisk bop of "Three Little Words" swings with the flair of Blue Note-era Freddie Hubbard or Herbie Hancock. Hersch tumbles and cascades across the keys to make a particularly vivid highlight on the bassist's piece "Andrew John." "Swamp Thang" suits its title with a dose of boozy blues; even "You Don't Know What Love Is" builds to a full sprint thanks to Gress's hyper solo and Tom Rainey's wild clatter at the set's close. Though there's a clear debt to those predecessors, the trio happily presents pieces old and new in their own (sweet) way, making a dazzling set with a special exuberance.

Triple Tea
The Tunnel
Self Produced

In addition to looking for work in the usual clubs or theaters, Triple Tea should have some fine possibilities waiting in the world of film scores. Carried by Tommaso Taddonio's ear for evocative melody, their larger-than-life sound is picturesque enough to go with majestic landscapes and dynamic action scenes alike. Interestingly, the primary elements in their debut seem to be Baroque music and modern electronica. Electric buzzes and beats are just as likely as warm arco bass lines and dignified piano flourishes.

This crew fits comfortably among the modern descendants of the Esbjorn Svensson Trio—the exciting opening "1994" could actually fit pretty well on a GoGo Penguin album—though Taddonio's simple coasting lines and Carlo De Baggio's upright bass suggest they could give a quiet formal recital just as easily. The highlight "Resistance" weaves a sweeping narrative at epic scale with flying synth washes, crashing percussion and quasi-symphonic drama. In other spots they might play with tricky rhythms, interject distant-firecracker bangs or lo-fi space synth for flavor, or spin simple motifs like the pretty love song "Für Maryjane" (though Maryjane is apparently a bad-ass too, since that one builds to a heavy wail in the end). The Tunnel leans on the short-ish side, but packs in a wide-ranging journey before fading out in rave lights and static noise. It'll be fascinating to hear what other imaginative places Triple Tea has yet to go.

Bruno Råberg Trio
Red Piano Records

Though Bruno Raberg has been known to get fairly far-out from time to time, Tailwind is a generally straightforward affair that would be easy on anyone's ears. That's not to say it's lightweight or that the session doesn't offer some challenges—there are a few raucous moments here with occasional tension and melodic conflict. Still, the overall mood is one of understated contentment. The titular forward motion is created by compositions of understated beauty and a respectful chemistry with his excellent bandmates (who all have a shared history in other contexts, if not previously in this particular lineup).

Though Råberg composes almost everything here, he often sounds content to lead from behind in the mix (that's a bassist's natural humility for you) while good friend Bruce Barth takes most of the heads and lead parts on piano. All three are equally important, though, as they range from sedate to snappy across the span of the eclectic program. There are showcases all around, from Barth's wave rolls and falling water drops in "Lone Tree Hill" to Adam Cruz's steady propulsion behind the title track. The leader hits his peak (or one of them, at least) in "Paris Window," which comes out as beautifully mysterious as its subjects. Still, the key to the album's success is the mind behind it all. From spinning a new piece out of a reinvented Eric Dolphy fragment to taking his confrontational "Candide" in two almost opposite directions, Råberg never stops looking for something exciting and new.

Tracks and Personnel

'97 @ the Village Vanguard

Tracks: Easy to Love; My Funny Valentine; Evanessence; Andrew John; I Wish I Knew; Swamp Thang; You Don't Know What Love Is.

Personnel: Fred Hersch: piano; Drew Gress: bass; Tom Rainey: drums.

The Tunnel

Tracks: 1994; Ephemera; Resistance (parts 1 & 2); Light Spirit; Für Maryjane; R.G.T.; The Tunnel.

Personnel: Tommaso Taddonio: piano; Martin Tamisier: drums; Carlo De Baggio: bass.


Tracks: Message XII; Song for Dolphy; A Closer Look; Le Candide II; Tailwind; Lone Tree Hill; Paris Window; Here's That Rainy Day; Rainy Day Farewell; Le Candide I.

Personnel: Bruno Råberg: bass; Bruce Barth: piano; Adam Cruz: drums.

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