Piano-led power trios have proliferated over the last twenty years or more thanks to the likes of the Esbjorn SvenssonTrio and The Bad Plus whose respective approach was undeniably a more consciously dynamic one than the reflective approach of say Bill Evans or the redoubtable Keith Jarrett. There was also, inevitably, a move away from the old style of swinging piano trios such as those led by Erroll Garner or Oscar Peterson. Often, contemporary piano-led trios have embraced a more rock-influenced stance, whilst not in any way selling out. The drums have gotten louder (especially the snare), the amplified double bass has grown more resonant and the piano has utilised the sustain pedal in abundance. But this says more about the medium than the message, which still harbours the intrinsic tenets of jazz and maintains that crucial marriage of the cerebral and the visceral.
So is time-up for the piano-led power trio? Well hardly. The phenomenon survives and thrives. A perfect exemplar must be Kingdom from Alexi Tuomarila. Following the first few lone piano chords, "The Sun Hillock" begins with a back beat-heavy rhythm section overlaid by an elegant melody. But then the mood changes rapidly with the pastoral "Rytter" dominated by ostinato piano and elegant arco bass courtesy of Mats Eilertsen.
Tuomarila hails from Finland but gained his musical education in Belgium at the Royal Conservatory, Brussels. He's played and recorded with the great Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko and in 1999, Tuomarila's Quartet won the trophy for best band at the international Jazz Hoeilaart competition in Belgium whilst he won the title of best soloist. Kingdom is the welcome follow-up to Tuomarila's 2013 recording Seven Hills, also on Edition.
The piano-led vamp on "Vagabond" backed by an ostinato bass figure is simply irresistible. "Aalto" benefits from a memorable and repeated head and represents all that is good about Tuomarila's trio. Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin'" is given a refreshing and all-too-rare jazz reworking which, due to its insistent timeless melody, undoubtedly becomes the stand-out track on the album. Judging by this fully engaging and satisfying album the piano-led power trio is most definitely alive and well.
The Sun Hillock; Rytter; The Girl In A Stetson Hat; Vagabond; The Times They Are
A-Changin'; Shadows; Aalto; Bruin Bay; White Waters.
Alexi Tuomarila: piano; Mats Eilertsen: double bass; Olavi Louhivuori: drums.
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