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3x3: Piano Trios, vol. V

Geno Thackara By

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Nick Sanders Trio
Playtime 2050
Sunnyside Records
2019

Nick Sanders understandably sees some turbulence ahead at the midpoint of the century (not to mention the decades leading up to it). Disturbing as this cover may seem, though, he and a couple adventurous trio-mates make sure this speculative portrait keeps its focus on the figurative playground. Their sequence of brief musical snapshots covers a wide range of feels with liveliness and try-anything abandon above all. For better and worse, this off-the-wall romp has a persistent experimental streak to keep players and listeners on their toes.

Somewhat unusually for a jazz-trio session, these are concise and self-contained pieces without any stretching or open-ended explorations. The trio's improvisation happens within the tidy individual frameworks that keep most tracks between three and four minutes. Sanders presents each one like a page in an atlas, giving detailed snaps of a certain area of ground before flipping along to the next. "Live Normal" sets the tone with heads intricate enough to require tight unison interplay, then leaving some space for the players to daydream in the middle.

Sanders uses classic jazz elements such as skittering bop rhythms and walking bass lines, then fits them into these compositions that borrow from the structure of jam-rock or formlessness of the avant-garde. Not all listeners will have patience for every stray-noise piece like "The Number 3" or "Happy Ghost." For each of those, however, there's a pretty moment elsewhere. "Prepared for the Blues" flirts with the blues as Keith Jarrett would play them, while the closer drifts away on a trail of lovely arco bass. Even the abrasive moments here are playful ones: if the imagined playground exists in a somewhat dystopian setting, at least the crew never forgets to take their time on the monkey bars.

Ehud Asherie Trio
Wild Man Blues
Capri Records
2019

From swing to stride to soul (as well as many other things starting with S and beyond), Ehud Asherie isn't behind his time so much as outside of it. Though he's versatile enough at the piano to cover just about any genre the stage or studio demands, he still most often drifts back to the eras of snazzy pin-striped suits, feathers and pearls. In keeping with his ever-present New York City roots and his superb duo exploring Great American Songbook selections with Hilary Gardner, Asherie knows his niche and is endlessly ready to polish a few more time-tested diamonds to see their facets anew.

The track list here is packed with well-aged gems from Bird and Diz to the Gershwins, all presented with the taste and elegance of a golden-age Broadway gala. The opening title track does certainly tap into the blues (if not so much the 'wild' part), followed by another shuffle as light and easygoing as the genre can get. The pace and energy pick up shortly, with the toe-tapping bop of "Chasin' the Bird" and their bright dance through "Flying Down to Rio." So it continues for the time-honored length of an LP, proving to be a classy and happily swanky affair throughout. Whatever the provenance of the material, this kind of upbeat ivory-tickling and endlessly hip interplay never go out of style.

Ben Winkelman
Balance
OA2 Records
2019

Ben Winkelman's fascinating trajectory has taken him from Australia to New York with a most stimulating detour through Cuba. With world-spanning roots spread over all those territories, his approach to the keys insistently leans bright and rhythmic, which is an absolute delight for listeners who enjoy their tropical sunshine with a hint of the tango.

A dose of Thelonious Monk gets the easy-swinging island treatment, and all-original remainder of Balance walks a fascinating line between breezy cool and wicked-sharp smarts. Obed Calvaire and Matt Penman deliver snappy flair on the rhythm front, as brisk and sharp as such well-built pieces demand. The complementary pair of bookends evoke the steady bounce of mass-transit busyness even in intriguingly odd time (further reinforced by the addictingly hot-to-trot "Wheels"); several others serve as colorful portraits of locales from Australia to Havana, while the quietly pretty highlight of "Santiago" paints a view of a cityscape full of lights on a warm spring evening.

Winkelman does indeed nail the theme of balance here: between exotic and familiar, sharp and playful, simple and multi-shaded (and many other characteristics besides). This whirlwind of a tour has enough life to encompass them all.

Tracks and Personnel

Playtime 2050

Tracks: Live Normal; Manic Maniac; Playtime 2050; Prepared for the Blues; Still Considering; The Number 3; Interlude for S.L.B.; Endless; It's Like This; Hungry Ghost; RPD; Prepared for the Accident; #2 Longfellow Park.

Personnel: Nick Sanders: piano; Henry Fraser: bass; Connor Baker: drums.

Wild Man Blues

Tracks: Wild Man Blues; Parker's Mood; Flying Down to Rio; Autumn Nocturne; Chasin' the Bird; Na Baixa Do Sapateiro; Oh, Lady Be Good; And Then She Stopped.

Personnel: Ehud Asherie: piano; Peter Washington: bass; Rodney Green: drums.

Balance

Tracks: BX12 part one; April; Wheels; Santiago; Merri Creek; Window Shopping; The Trip; Fala Baixiño; Bye-Ya; BX12 part two.

Personnel: Ben Winkelman: piano; Matt Penman: bass; Obed Calvaire: drums.

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Upcoming Shows

Date Detail Price
Sep11Wed
Ben Winkelman Trio
Smalls Jazz Club
New York, NY
$20

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