For pianist Bill Mays' Inventions Trio, the third time is indeed a charm, as it would be difficult to find music more charming than that performed by Mays, trumpeter Marvin Stamm and cellist Alisa Horn on Life's a Movie, the trio's third album together (and first for Chiaroscuro Records). This is "chamber jazz" of the highest order, with the classically trained Horn complementing perfectly the jazz-inflected sorties of Mays and Stamm in a program whose beauty is equaled only by its earnestness.
The centerpiece is Mays' four-part suite Life's a Movie: 4 Cues in Search of a Film, which follows a four-part homage to Bill Evans and precedes Juaquin Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez," Chick Corea's sunny "Spain" (based in part on Rodrigo's theme) and a third suite, this one a salute to Thelonious Monk. Mays comes by his "movie cues" naturally, having worked in Hollywood studios for more than a decade, during which time he appeared on hundreds of soundtracks. The trio plays it seamlessly, with Mays' muscular piano setting the tone, Stamm and Horn adding color and nuance wherever needed. The suite is comprised of a melodious "Main Title," haunting "Love Theme Bittersweet," high-spirited (and clamorous) "Chase" and rhythmically opulent "End Credits."
Mays performs Evans' "My Bells" by himself, and is joined by the others on "Interplay," "Turn Out the Stars" and the endearing "Waltz for Debby." Stamm, always a pleasure to hear, is at his improvisational best on one of the more arduous numbers, Monk's "Trinkle Tinkle," as well as on the fast-moving "Spain." He switches to muted trumpet on the opening passages of the easygoing "Pannonica," then delivers a brief but cogent statement (in front of Mays' thundering piano) on "Straight, No Chaser." Horn, who we're told has learned to improvise and loves the challenge, has an extended solo here, sounding much like a member of France's storied Hot Club. Some of her best work comes when she plucks the cello like a bass, lending Mays and Stamm unwavering support. Her arco cello is especially inspiring on "Concierto de Aranjuez."
This is a trio whose members clearly enjoy what they are doing, in all likelihood because they do it so well and love being together. Their camaraderie is readily apparent on Life's a Movie, as is the expertise of three musicians who seem able in effect to read each other's minds. The lone caveat: Mays' two-fisted piano is sometimes too prominent in the mix. Aside from that, about as persuasive as trio jazz can be.
Homage to Bill Evans (My Bells / Interplay / Turn Out the Stars / Waltz for Debby); Life’s a Movie: 4 Cues in Search of a Film (Main Title / Love Theme Bittersweet / Chase / End Credits); Concierto de Aranjuez; Monk Tribute (Trinkle Tinkle / Pannonica / Straight, No Chaser).
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