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A World of Piano Trios

Mark Sullivan By

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The piano trio format is alive and well, judging by this disparate collection of piano trio albums (mostly: a couple of them feature a guest vocalist on a track or two). They come from Israel (recorded in Berlin), Slovenia (recorded in New York City), Greece (recorded in Hungary), Boston, and Asheville, North Carolina. Traditionally the pianist is also the leader, but this collection also includes one cooperative group and one led by the drummer.

Anat Fort Trio
Colour
Sunnyside Records
2019

Israeli pianist/composer Anat Fort has had a working trio with double bassist Gary Wang and drummer Roland Schneider for over twenty years. Their previous album Birdwatching (ECM, 2016) featured guest clarinetist Gianluigi Trovesi, but here they are back to the core group.

The program consists entirely of Fort originals. "BBB" opens with a winding, rubato theme, explored as only an experienced group of musicians can. "Sort Of" has a Gospel flavor, recalling pianist Keith Jarrett's solo and trio music. Wang takes lyrical double bass solo, and the entire performance has a restrained slow burn feel. "The Limp" provides a solo drum spotlight, but accompanied by piano and bass: so it sounds like part of the tune.

"Tirata Tiratata" is brief, but full of metrical shifts and other surprises. "Goor Katan" is a delicate ballad (with another fine bass solo), while "Free" makes good on its title by offering all three players unaccompanied solo spots. "Heal And..." concludes the set with a benediction, first rubato, then sliding into and out of steady time. Another example of fine-tuned trio communication, and a beautiful album ending.

Marko Churnchetz Trio
Place To Live
Fresh Sound New Talent
2019

Slovenian jazz pianist/composer Marko Churnchetz has a variety of musical interests. His previous album as leader was RUTHENIA -Retrospective Of Russian Composers Of The 20th Century (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2017), a large group project combining classical music and jazz. He also played a prominent role in Samo Salamon & Freequestra -Free Sessions, Vol. 2: Freequestra (Klopotec, 2019), a large ensemble free improvisational project.

This (mostly) trio date with bassist Harish Raghavan and drummer Justin Brown explores mainstream modern jazz, including saxophonist John Coltrane's "Countdown," pianist/composer Thelonious Monk's "Ask Me Now" and saxophonist Wayne Shorter's "Pinocchio." But the set begins with Churhchetz's "M&M," a sprightly modern jazz tune which features a fine bass solo. The title tune was co-written with guest vocalist Jonathan Hoard, who makes a strong impression with his sweet tenor voice. He sticks around for a thoughtful rendition of "Ask Me Now."

The covers are creatively arranged. "Countdown" begins with an introduction with a repeating piano figure with recurs throughout the usual form: unusual to hear this difficult "Coltrane changes" tune played so freely. "Bright Size Life" finds guitarist Pat Metheny's guitar trio piece from his debut Bright Size Life (ECM, 1976) played on piano, and very convincingly. "Pinocchio" is played as fast bebop, a more traditional approach than the original Miles Davis Quintet recording on Nefertiti (Columbia, 1968). A crisp unaccompanied drum solo leads into the final theme.

Place To Live brings a new focus on Churnchetz as pianist and arranger. He shines in this context, with the able support of his band mates.

Man On Land
Man On Land
Self Produced
2018

Man On Land is a Boston area collectively led trio with pianist Brian Friedland., bassist Greg Loughman, and drummer Austin McMahon. The band name is formed from the end of each of the band member's names. They formed in 2009, and have played often since, but this is their debut album.

Their core repertoire is music they have written for the trio: this set opens with the rousing "Oomph." It exemplifies their democratic collective approach: everyone gets solo space, but the band stays fully engaged throughout. McMahon's "Peddler's Theme" is built on his martial snare drum beat, but has a Spanish flavor. Friedland's joyful ode to his newborn daughter, "Nora's Swing" inspires the longest track on the album. The album closes with Friedland's rockish "Late Night Snack," and the reflective finale "Listen."

The covers are a varied lot. "Hedwig's Theme" is a graceful waltz taken from the Harry Potter movies. Loughman contributes a creative arrangement of the jazz standard "I Didn't Know What Time It Was," and also features prominently on the lovely Lennon/McCartney tune "For No One," playing the first part of the tune. It is the sort of unexpected touch that should be expected from this bunch: a piano trio that does not behave like a standard piano trio.

Billy Prim
Thalassa
BlahoNoizRecords
2019

Greek drummer/composer Billy Prim makes his leader debut with Thalassa (which means "Sea" in Greek). His music is impressionistic, frequently drawing from the rubato rhythmic feel of many ECM Records releases (an influence which he freely acknowledges). Pianist Attila Blaho is a perfect foil for this approach. Opener "Enlightenment" is a piano/drum duet featuring wave sounds produced by Prim using brushes ( a call out to the album title) and Blaho's rippling piano. "Waves Of Emotion" continues the sea theme, but goes into more explicit rhythmic territory. After building to a climax, double bassist Andor Horváth takes a lyrical solo, and the trio comes to a gentle close.

"En Felkelek" signals a significant change in the sound, if not the atmosphere. Vocalist Júlia Csillag sings the simple folk-song like melody over an electronic keyboard wash and percussive commentary. She finishes the song with a lovely final a cappella verse. Closer "Midnight Sea" ends the set with another impressionistic musical picture of the sea, this time with an ad lib pizzicato bass part.

Thalassa is a beautiful album with a singular focus, and fine debut.

The Richard Shulman Trio
Waltzing Out Of Town
RichHeart Music
2019

In addition to his solo projects, Asheville, North Carolina-based pianist/composer Richard Shulman has been heard on the Greenville Jazz Collective Big Band's Welcome To Earth (Greenville Jazz Collective, 2019) (also contributing one composition). Here he leads a trio with frequent collaborators bassist Zack Page and drummer Rick Dilling on a program of all-original compositions. Artist Marsha Hammel invited the trio to an event where she would paint a portrait while they performed: so the cover art actually inspired the creation of the album.

Opener "I Don't Know Yet" (his imagined answer to a question about the name of the song) begins the album with a propulsive straight eighth rhythm. "Waltzing Out-of- Town" delivers the promised waltz with style and swing, and features a fine double bass solo. "Toasted" is a jazz blues with a pronounced Thelonious Monk accent (nice quote from Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen's standard "Swinging On A Star").

"Freedom" provides a dose of funk, while "Walkin' to Your House" has a hooky ostinato pattern which proves to be a fine accompaniment to bass and drum solos. "For Chick" uses a sprightly Latin groove to honor pianist/composer Chick Corea. Closer "Afternoon Memory" brings the album to a close with a gentle bossa nova. A lovely ending to a varied program of piano trio music.

Tracks and Personnel

Colour

Tracks: BBB; Sort Of; The Limp; Part Trio; Tirata Tiratata; Goor Katan; Free; Part Solo; Heal And....

Personnel: Anat Fort: piano; Gary Wang; bass; Roland Schneider: drums.

Place To Live

Tracks: M&M; Countdown; Bright Size Life; Place to Live; Ask Me Now; Pinocchio; Nicolette; Bellavista; His Cottage in the Country.

Personnel: Marko Churnchetz: piano; Harish Raghavan: bass; Justin Brown: drums; Jonathan Hoard: vocals.

Man On Land

Tracks: Oomph; Hedwig's Theme (from Harry Potter); Lumbersexual; I Didn't Know What Time It Was; Peddler's Theme; Nora's Swing; L'Etranger; For No One; Late Night Snack; Listen.

Personnel: Brian Friedland: piano; Greg Loughman: bass; Austin McMahon: drums.

Thalassa

Tracks: Enlightenment; Waves Of Emotion; Keep The Child Alive In You; En Felkelek; Midnight Sea.

Personnel: Billy Prim: drums; Attila Blaho: piano; Andor Horváth: double bass (2,5); Áron Turcsányi: electric bass (3); Júlia Csillag: vocals (4).

Waltzing Out Of Town

Tracks: I Don't Know Yet; Waltzing Out-of-Town; Toasted; Daydream; Poignant; Stop and Blow; Freedom; A Better Way; Walkin' to Your House; Climb Up; For Chick; Afternoon Memory.

Personnel: Richard Shulman: piano; Zack Page: bass; Rick Dilling: drums.
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