Toby Koenigsberg Trio: Drift

Dan McClenaghan By

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Toby Koenigsberg Trio: Drift
Pianist Toby Koenigsberg explored some of bop icon Bud Powell's tunes, the Great American Songbook gem "My Foolish Heart," and Bill Evans' "Show Type Tune" on his outstanding 2005 Origin Records release, Sense. And there was a warped (in a good sense) take on the "Stella By Starlight," also from the Great American Songbook. All of it sounded very modern. He pushes the modernity thing ahead further with his Drift, an homage to the late indy rock artist Elliot Smith.

Jazz guys doing a whole album as a nod to a single artist aren't your everyday offerings, but they're not unheard of, either. Oscar Peterson did a bunch of tributes to the the classic tune-smiths: Gershwin, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Jerome Kern. Bud Powell tipped his hat to Charlie Parker with Bud Plays Bird (Roulete Records, 1957). Move things into the new millennium and you have guitarist Bill Frisell covering Beatle John Lennon's music on All We Are Saying (Nonesuch Records, 2013). But go to the newer sound/indy rock guys and they'll have a song covered here and there, but a more thorough rumination on a single new millennium indie rock artist—haven't heard it, until now.

Koenigsberg and his trio open with Smith's "Alphabet Town." Like much of the tunes here, this one has a circular feeling, the melody curving back around on itself—something that's said of the compositions of Brad Mehldau, another pianist who has covered the more modern rock sounds. A buoyant groove rolls along. The energy is high but contained as it gathers momentum. "Satelite" sounds like a dirge—a gorgeous dark gray and melancholy sound. The disc closes with a brooding take on Smith's "Strung Out Again." It feels full of despair, even as Koenigsberg pushes the momentum up towards the high end. Then at the end, hope surfaces with some bright tint to the melody from Koenigsberg.

Also included are Koenigsberg's tribute to his wife, "Song for Aki," that begins in a tranquil mode leading into an up-shift in energy and vivacity. The trio also induges in an improvisation, an experiment in small, subtle sounds that bring hauntings and the ethereal to mind. And Smith includes a "The Rain Before It Falls," a tune by saxophonist Tim Wilcox, who was influenced by Elliot Smith. A drifting, circular piece featuring Koenigsberg's intricate piano work.

Track Listing

Alphabet Town; Satellite; Song for Aki; The Rain Before It Falls; Improvisation; Strung Out Again.


Toby Koenigsberg: piano; Tyler Abbott: bass(1-4, 6); Tommy Sciple: bass (5); Jason Palmer: drums, toys.

Album information

Title: Drift | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Ninjazz Records

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