It would be too easy to pigeonhole the Upper Left Trio as a Bad Plus wannabe. Doing so would certainly be inaccurate, as the Upper Left Trio exists at approximately the midpoint between the Oscar Peterson Trio and Medeski, Martin, and Wood. The band’s debut recording, Cycling, consists of ten well-crafted original piano trio compositions that fall conservatively well short of the Bad Plus, producing a record that will not boast the band being the loudest jazz piano trio. The Upper Left Trio can boast being one of the more articulate and thoughtful new trios to emerge in the mainstream in the 21st century.
Fully integrated, the trio acts a unit as opposed to a collection of three individuals. Clay Giberson displays a piano gift that crosses Horace Tapscot with Tommy Flanagan. His playing with the rhythm section of drummer Charlie Doggett and bassist Jeff Leonard displays the true nature of solution in music. Each musician is fully dissolved in the other. This is best illustrated on the opener, “Fine Line,” where Giberson presents a standard introduction before melting with the other band members. “The Start and the End” is the best ballad on the recording, with Doggett’s perfectly accenting drumming spurring the elasticity of Leonard’s bass beneath Giberson’s melodic concept. The breezy gospel tune “Up and Away” weaves in and out of the blues and avant garde. “Cycling” begins with some elastic virtuosity from Leonard, who sets up a bit of a space mood for the piece that ends up being reflective and outspoken.