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Greg Burk: Ivy Trio

John Kelman By

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Greg Burk: Ivy Trio Time can be a funny thing. Recorded prior to his last trio disc, Nothing, Knowing (482 Music, 2005), Greg Burk's Ivy Trio shares more in common than just format. Ivy Trio provides alternate views of three Burk originals—"Look to the Neutrino, "Blink to Be and "Operetta —but with a trio featuring bassist Jonathan Robinson and drummer Luther Gray in place of Nothing, Knowing's higher-profile rhythm team of bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Bob Moses. The tunes are well worth revisiting—or perhaps more appropriately in this case, foreshadowing.

That Robinson plays double-bass in contrast to Swallow's electric instrument would be enough to give Ivy Trio a different complexion, especially when Robinson brings out his bow, as he does briefly during the free-sounding middle section of Burk's introspective "Ducks and Gulls and an equally oblique passage on "Blink to Be. But it's not all obscurity and abstraction. Robinson and Gray swing firmly on Burk's "Dumbo's Dilemma, where the pianist is as unfettered as ever, but more in-the-tradition than usual.

It's curious then, yet wholly appropriate, that the only non-original of the set—Charlie Parker's "Billie's Bounce —manages to be familiar but quirky, with Burk playing the head the way an even more idiosyncratic Thelonious Monk might have. Robinson and Gray move seamlessly from a more straightforward swing to greater elasticity, at once responding to Burk and pushing the pianist into freer territory.

Burk's always been more directly aligned with Paul Bley than other iconic pianists like Bill Evans. Still, Burk has always been the type of pianist to incorporate a wide array of references, although by now they're completely subsumed into a personal voice and open-minded conception. In some ways, Burk recalls the recently-departed Andrew Hill—not stylistically, but conceptually—in the way that he similarly skirts the edges of convention and experimentation; never totally "out, but rarely ever totally "in either.

Of the three tracks that intersect Ivy Trio with Nothing, Knowing, it's "Look to the Neutrino that's the most surprising, with Burk's piano either prepared or processed to sound more trebly, and his use of synthesizer to solo over the tune's repetitive figure. Some might bemoan Burk's use of technology, but in a time when it's becoming increasingly accepted as part of an ever-broadening sonic palette, the obvious question is: why not?

Since emerging in the late 1990s, Burk has proven himself an artist well worth watching, with a small but impressive discography of his own, and with the stylistically intrepid Either/Orchestra. Both assert a continually developing style that's focused, yet still something of a moving target. With Ivy Trio and the solo The Way In (482 Music, 2006) recorded four years ago, however, let's hope a new record, recorded more recently, is in the offing. Four years is a long time, and where Burk is now may well be anybody's guess.


Track Listing: Look to the Neutrino; Blink to Be; Dumbos Dilemma; Hupid Stumid; Ducks and Gulls; Operetta; Billies Bounce.

Personnel: Greg Burk: piano, Moog synthesizer (1); Jonathan Robinson: bass; Luther Gray: drums.

Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: 482 Music | Style: Modern Jazz


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