Fans of the piano trio have been listening hard and wide for a follow-up to the "Holy Grails": Bill Evans' Live at the Village Vanguard
(Riverside Records, 1961) and Waltz for Debby
(Riverside Records, 1961). Those sets introduced democracy to the group's three-way interplay, making drums and bass near-equal partners with the piano. Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson's later trios have come close to that elusive perfection. Serenity
(ECM Records, 2000) and Goodbye
(ECM Records, 2006) both achieve rare heights of cohesion, trio simpatico and subtle, breathtaking beauty. Serenity,
a double disc with bassist Anders Jormin and drummer Jon Christensen, is often cited as Stenson's finest recorded outing, while Goodbye
, with Paul Motianwho sat in the drummer's chair in the previously mentioned legendary Bill Evans live datesis consistently praised as a top-notch outing.
The differences between Cantando
and Stenson's previous two discs are of small degrees, but they add up to make it his finest trio recording.
, Stenson maintains his longstanding musical relationship with Jormin, and debuts Jon Falt, his touring drummer of the past few years. The result is more of the same trademark trio sound: delicate beauty and understatement, drifting melodies and three-way telepathy, combined with Stenson's supple touch and somewhat brainy, but always accessible approach. Serenity
was aptly named; much of Stenson's work has a serene, sedate quality about it. Whether it's the inclusion of drummer Fait or just a natural evolution of Stenson's musical vision, Cantando
is a livelier outing. Falt is a drummer given more to direct statement than either of his two predecessors; he is more of a percussionist as opposed to a colorist wielding brushes dipped in quiet pastels, and he gives the sound more bounce, more pep.
Song selection also factors into the set's success, with Astor Piazzolla's "Chiquilin de Bachin" injecting some zest, and Don Cherry's "Don's Kora Song" pulling the sound toward a world music vibe, while Ornette Coleman's "A Fixed Goal" sticks some thorns and odd angles into the proceedings. "Pages," a fourteen minute spontaneous composition, was put togetherTeo Macero/Miles Davis stylefrom different group improvisations, and showcases the in-the-moment rapport and spontaneity of the trio.
Expectations were high after Serenity
, but Stenson's trio has topped them with Cantando
, the pianist's best outing and very nearly that Holy Grail.