John Funkhouser, Angelica Sanchez, David Arner: 3 x Piano 3

Mark Corroto By

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It's unclear why anyone would desire the end result, but as the saying goes, "there are many ways to skin a cat." Setting aside the vivisection angle for a moment, there are countless approaches to the classic jazz piano trio. Ever since ragtime, boogie-woogie and stride pianists caught the attention of popular music listeners, jazz pianists have gobbled up new and inventive approaches to the 88 keys, incorporating blues, bebop, classical, free jazz and hip-hop. Perhaps mentioning those numerous ways is apt for the jazz cats who carve up their pianos.

John Funkhouser Trio
Jazsyzygy Records

Pianist John Funkhouser, an instructor at the Berklee College of Music, set out to create a recording of jazz standards and new compositions that intentionally tamper with standard jazz time signatures. Citing influences from guitarist Frank Zappa to pianist Dave Brubeck, his trio of bassist Greg Loughman and drummer Mike Conners use time to alter the listener's frame of reference. They do so without disrupting the listener's musical vista.

Listening to Funkhouser's renditions of classics like "Green Dolphin Street" or "Come Rain Or Come Shine" is like viewing Pablo Picasso's 162 ton sculpture in Chicago's Daley Plaza. On one side is a woman's silhouette, while the other can be interpreted as a bird or maybe a chess piece. The trio likewise changes traditional pacing and rhythms, like hitting the "refresh" button.

When Funkhouser plays his own compositions, such as "Ellipse," with multiple time signatures played by each player (and right and left hand), the math equation is solved with a built-in pinnacle of sound. Yes, it works more on a visceral than intellectual basis. While he's got your ear, he turns a Bach fugue into a Latin jazz frenzy on "Fugue," and "Eleven One" is his take on funky percussive piano taken in 11/8 time.

The music comes off sounding audacious, yet very natural. Quite the triumph.

Chad Taylor
Circle Down
482 Music

A drummer-led piano recording is apt to be the most democratic of all combinations of the classic format. Such is the case with drummer Chad Taylor's Circle Down with pianist Angelica Sanchez and bassist Chris Lightcap. The much in demand Taylor can be heard in the bands of trumpeter Rob Mazurek, saxophonist Fred Anderson, Chicago Underground, Digital Primitives and Iron & Wine, to name just a few.

Rarely the focal point in other ensembles, Taylor's music is heard here in equal proportions to that of his partners. The three share the writing too. Chris Lightcap's scrambling track "Specifica" is a sideways Latin- tinge glued together by Sanchez's ringing piano and the whirling rhythm of Taylor. Like the bassist's opening piece, "Box Step," the music favors melodies that begin simply then progressively get crowded. With these tracks, the listener's attention is directed beyond a simple piano trio, as it wanders further from the melody.

Sanchez is an engaging pianist, satisfied to accent at times, other places she muscles in for some high energy labor. Her "Rock" is played as a march that blossoms into an open-ended sound. The fun begins as the rhythm of the parade begin to disintegrate and the players start parachuting from the plan.

Taylor wrote half of the tracks heard here. His "Miriam" is played as a straight tender ballad, but given this trio's pedigree, nothing else is conventional. "Pablo" is a speed-meets-density energy piece and "Pascal" is a perfect summation of the trio's powers. The music remains centered on no single player. Its center slides, taking in the deep tone of Lightcap's bass and each of the multiple spinning plates they set in motion. All deeply moving and impressive.

David Arner Trio
Out/In The Open
Not Two

Spontaneous creation, or playing jazz without a safety net, is not for the weak of heart, nor for those players without the necessary jazz chops. Pianist David Arner specializes in the art of instant composing. He has featured solo performances on his previous discs: Live From The Center (Dogstar, 2005) and Solo Piano (Dogstar, 2002), and a piano trio PORGY/BESS ACT 1 (CIMP, 2009) with bassist Michael Bisio and percussionist Jay Rosen, both heard here.

The prior outing was loosely based on the Gershwin score and the three deconstruct and reinterpret the music. This session is composed of four group improvisations, one standard (Rogers & Hart's "My Romance") and Arner's "Intensities Opus 56."

The band of master improvisers is not inclined to rush into this music. "Double Nature" opens with a cymbal flurry and some bowing, before the plink-plink of Arner's keyboards. The musicians perambulate, but not without purpose. It's just they cannot be hurried into their choice of improvised roads less traveled. And although it is Arner's moniker on the CD cover, he yields the bandstand to his partners quite generously as they explore textures and sounds. These three seem quite at ease in each other's company; their interplay is paced, yet the discourse is of the loftiest nature.

Tracks and Personnel


Tracks: Green Dolphin Street; Ellipse; Prelude (More Cowbell!); Fugue; Dyin' Nation; Emancipation; Eleventy One; Come Rain Or Come Shine; Alone Together; Ode To A Lame Duck; Kelp.

Personnel: John Funkhouser: piano; Greg Loughman: bass; Mike Connors: drums.

Circle Down

Tracks: Box Step; Specifica; Rock; Traipse; No Brainer; Opal; Level; Miriam; Pablo; Pascal.

Personnel: Angelica Sanchez: piano; Chris Lightcap: bass; Chad Taylor: drums.

Out/In The Open

Tracks: Double Nature; Swirl; Mr. MB; Intensities Opus 56; A Take On It All; My Romance.

Personnel: David Arner: piano; Michael Bisio: bass; Jay Rosen: drums.


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