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Curiously, it happens that one of the most exciting "young" pianists on the scene today is an eighty-something year-old woman named Lee Shaw. Shaw's playing has an energy and freshness that sounds great alongside other new rising stars of the piano-trio idiom: Aaron Goldberg, Aaron Parks, Robert Glasper, Yaron Herman and Elan Mehler.
Shaw's story is recounted in a DVD documentary included with her 2008 release, Live In Graz (Artists Recording Collective). For many years she led a rhythm section with her husband, drummer Stan Shaw, that backed up visiting horn players in Albany. Some time after Stan died, Lee decided she wanted to be a pianist who made records of her own material and toured around the world. And that's what she does now.
If anything, Blossom is even better than the live record, with tighter, more focused performances. Like its predecessor, this disc leans heavily on Shaw's compositions, in addition to a couple of covers and a handful of tunes by her fellow trio members. Sometimes it sounds a little like we're back in an Albany night club, sometime in 1975, as on a rollicking reading of Fats Navarro's "Fats' Blues," and that's fine. Other times, Shaw, drawing on those decades of club playing, creates something entirely new.
Shaw's "Blossom" is a tune that Bill Evans would have loved to play, and the fact that he never will can be rued, the lovely version here is wonderful compensation. At times, Shaw's playingfor example, on her own "Blues 11" has something of McCoy Tyner's quality in his initial days with John Coltrane's quartet back in the early 1960s. There's a kind of sweetness, but also some deep, subterranean currents barely being contained by the confines of the composition. (For Tyner, those undercurrents would burst free in the latter Coltrane days.)
Shaw's compositions and playing are both buoyed by vast reserves of experience and depth, but another reason the Shaw trio holds its own in the crowded field of piano trios is the empathy among the trio members. Bassist Rich Syracuse and drummer Jeff "Siege" Siegel's extended, fluid Latin introduction to "Holiday" bears eloquent witness to many years of working together.
As a kid, my mom told me I'd like jazz. I thought she was nuts. Then I went to hear Cannonball Adderley (with Nat Adderley, George Duke, Walter Booker, Roy McCurdy and Airto) and everything changed. Yeah, mom knows best.