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Benny Lackner Trio: Cachuma

Dan McClenaghan By

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Pianist Benny Lackner can do whatever he wants, and says as much with "I Can Do Whatever I Want," the opener on his forward-leaning Cachuma. This piano trio outing suggests he wants to nudge the trio setting into a modern groove while giving voice to his own artistic vision.

Modernization of the tried and true piano trio format is an ongoing process. e.s.t., led by the late Swedish pianist Esbjorn Svensson, incorporated electronics with great success, while John Medeski continues to employ a wide range of electric keyboards with Medeski Martin & Wood. Sam Yahel— better known earlier in his career as an organist—offered up an excellent brew of piano trio tinted with Hammond B3 organ on From Sun to Sun (Origin Records, 2011).

Lackner has molded a very idiosyncratically distinctive artistic voice within the trio format on recordings like Sign of the Times (Nagel Hayer Records, 2006) and Pilgrim (Stray Dog Records, 2007). On Cachuma, he sprinkles and spices the sound of the acoustic instrument with subtle electronics, employing Fender Rhodes and Nord Lead 2 synth to juice up his nine contemporary-sounding compositions and a couple of well-chosen covers.

No other artist presents an album's worth of sustained mood better than Lackner. Studying under fellow pianist Brad Mehldau at the California Institute of the Arts, the atmospheric continuity and somewhat abstract, wandering melodies (which circle back on themselves) that Lackner crafts possess a Mehldau-ian feeling. These qualities, as well as a rhythmic insistence tinted with an electric glow, are evident on "I Can Do Whatever I Want."

The brooding and subtle "Lola's Dance" moves the record into a melancholy mood. Lackner and bassist Jerome Regard bounce into the intro of "Imren," moving from inward ruminations to playful prancing, with drummer Matthieu Chazarenc shifting from whispers and shadings to snapping, popping beats.

"Pianohaus" unfolds with a bit of jarring harmony, leading into a floating momentum where Chazarenc adds marching flourishes inside Regard's organic heartbeat as the rhythm gathers energy. Indie rock band Blonde Redhead's "Elephant Woman" trudges in a moody gloom, while Chazarenc's "Yulia" is the most delicately pretty tune on the disc, featuring Lackner's light and lovely touch.

Cachuma's closer, "The Baltic," features Regard and Chazarec laying down a thick, metronomic foundation for Lackner's deep contemplation and sense of release. He wraps up his fourth CD as a leader doing exactly what he wants to do: making superbly modernistic piano trio music.

Track Listing: I Can Do Whatever I Want; Lola's Dance; Imren; Coming Down; Cachuma; Pianohaus; Find Your Place; Brooklyn/Berlin; Elephant Woman; Yulia; The Baltic.

Personnel: Benny Lackner: piano, Fender Rhodes, Nord Lead 2; Jerome Regard: acoustic bass; Matthieu Chazarec: drums.

Title: Cachuma | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: BHM Productions

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