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The Billy Lester Trio: Italy 2016

Dan McClenaghan By

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Piano trios jazz can charm or seduce, and occasionally mesmerize. In modern times, they can also rock the house, but they seldom jump out of the speakers at you with joy. The Billy Lester Trio,  Italy 2016, does just that. The initial impression of pianist Lester's influences—as the opener "An Evening With Friends" plays—is Bud Powell. The music has a bounce and ebullience, a joy of life that was essential to Powell's artistry. Further listening and the Lenny Tristano tint is discernable. And, in a way, alto saxophonist Lee Konitz—a Tristano school alum—comes to mind.

Lester takes the foundations of a handful of Great American Songbook tunes here, and jumps away with them, the way Konitz—especially new-millennium Lee Konitz—does. For the most part, the source material in not identifiable. "An Evening with Friends" ("Just Friends") cooks along at medium heat. Lester has could be called a straight ahead guy. But there are points in each tune when he drifts into beautiful freedom—the other side of the coin to the way Cecil Taylor sometimes drifts into beautiful melodicism.

"Yeah Man!" takes as its source "All The Things You Are." Like the music of Bud Powell or Art Tatum, there's a sense with Lester's music of a deep-seated positivity,  an affirmation of life. "To Julia" draws nourishment from the classic "Body And Soul." Craggy and angular, Lester's piano has found perfect backing with his Italian compatriots, bassist Marcello Testa and drummer Nicola Stranieri, rock solid foundation layers who allow the pianist the freedom to explore.

Though an under sung veteran player, there's not a lot on record/CD available from Billy Lester at this point. YouTube is another story. Lots of great Lester listening available there. But there is Italy 2016 a top tier piano trio outing with an unusual and original sound.    

Track Listing: An Evening With Friends; Yeah Man!; To Julia; Pop Pop Train; Consolidation; Omens.

Personnel: Billy Lester: piano; Marcello Testa: bass; Nicola Stranieri: drums.

Title: Italy 2016 | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Ultra Sound Records

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