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Jon Mayer Trio: Do It Like This

Robert Spencer By

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From the first note of this fine CD it's clear that as a pianist Jon Mayer's technique and sensibilities were forged within the great tradition of his acknowledged influences - chiefly, Wynton Kelly, Red Garland, and Kenny Barron. At the same time Mayer cannot be pigeonholed easily. He can show the drive of Kelly and the gloss of Garland, yes, but after all, Mayer himself was recording in the Fifties with John Coltrane and Jackie McLean, so he is more of a colleague than a disciple of those two great pianists; and his own unique voice is clear throughout this disc.

On this disc are four Mayer originals, one by Watts, and four by others, including the standards "If I Should Lose You" and "Like Someone in Love," plus Horace Silver's wonderful "Out of the Night Came You." Victor Feldman's "Azul Serape" kicks it all off brightly, displaying Mayer's fleetness and fluency and the carefree simpatico he enjoys with bassist Bob Maize and drummer Harold Mason. The only problem is that with Mayer in mid-flight, this track fades out abruptly. ("Live music is best - bumper stickers should be issued." -Neil Young)

Monster tenor man Ernie Watts appears on the scene for his own "Lonely Hearts," giving Mayer a chance to demonstrate his generosity and sensitivity as an accompanist. He allows Watts to take center stage and provides a low-key palette for the reedman to stretch out a bit. Mayer's own stretching comes on his originals: the smoky "Shari's Bolero," where Watts shows his gentle side, includes a tremendous solo by Mayer. Focused on the right hand and returning here and there to hornlike lines, Mayer paints a picture of smoldering passion with effortlessness and surety.

"Randy's Tune," on the other hand, jumps out with a recurring three-note left-hand power figure that recalls Mal Waldron; Mayer quickly weaves in more genial material, but this one is still an engaging example of his high-speed mastery - was it playing like this that made Trane see in Mayer something of what he ultimately found in McCoy Tyner? Or perhaps it was the searching inventiveness and uncompromising beauty of Mayer's darker-edged "Ballad for Trane," a piece that only slightly recalls Coltrane or Tyner audibly, but which pays them the tribute of emotional depth, shifting moods and unsparing honesty.

Mayer is clearly a top-flight pianist whose "Rip Van Winkle" reappearance after a long silence is welcome for a number of reasons: his perseverance is inspiring, his piano playing is cheering, his music is great. Recommended.

Title: Do It Like This | Year Released: 1998 | Record Label: A-Records

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