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Jim McNeely / Kelly Sill / Joel Spencer: Boneyard

Dan McClenaghan By

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I'd take the bet that a good percentage of jazz fans—those of my generation, at least—got their start in jazz via Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Art Blakey and Dave Brubeck, mainly piano/bass/drum rhythm sections behind one or more horns. And I can remember wondering why Miles, Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane sat out on "Billy Boy" on Miles' classic album, Milestones, (Columbia, 1958), letting pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Philly Joe Jones have their way with the tune. The limited dynamic range of a piano trio—as addressed so succinctly in Francis Davis' liner notes to the reissue of the Legendary Bill Evans album You Must Believe in Spring (Warner Brothers, 1981/2003)—seems a problem for many early-in-the-evolution listeners.

Then somewhere along the line comes an "aha!" moment, some piano trio outing that stops them cold. For me it was Bill Evans' Sunday at the Village Vanguard (Riverside Records, 1961) with his classic trio alongside bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian. For others it might be Keith Jarrett's Standards Trio, or, to update things a bit, Brad Mehdau's trio.

That's a bit of a wordy introduction, perhaps, to this excellent piano trio set by pianist Jim McNeely, bassist Kelly Sill and drummer Joel Spencer, a modern recording full of vibrant interplay that stays anchored to the tradition. These trio members are all veteran players, with impressive resumes of recorded-with/played with-names: Joe Henderson, Phil Woods, Stan Getz, Renee Rosnes, Clark Terry, Wynton Marsalis, etc.

It all comes together on Boneyard, from the high-octane opener, Kurt Weill's "Speak Low," through an energetic take on Dizzy Gillespie's "Con Alma," into Dave Brubeck's "In Your Own Sweet Way," with McNeely's cascading intro giving way to the sweet familiar melody, juiced up more than your normally hear it, insistently gregarious, the three musicians locked into a bouncy, lubricated cohesion.

The set is marvelously sequenced, with classic tunes and a couple of originals each from the pens of pianist McNeely and bassist Sills, full of seamless interplay that comes from years of playing together, and some gorgeous Sills bass solos in front of McNeely's sparkling comping, closing with the ever wistful classic "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning."

This superb piano trio outing could just serve as somebody's "aha!" moment.


Track Listing: Speak Low; Con Alma; In Your Own Sweet Way; For Manny; Fe Fi Fo Fum; A Sense of Fairness; Naomi; Ernie Banks; In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning.

Personnel: Jim McNeely: piano; Kelly Sill: bass; Joel Spencer: drums.

Title: Boneyard | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: Origin Records

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