Four years after the success of Groove du Jour
, named best album of the year in 2019 by the French Academie du Jazz, Yes! Trio is finally back! Strengthened by their differences, these musicians, who never seemed predisposed to meet—a drummer, scion of the great African-American jazz family; a hippie bassist with Yemenite and Moroccan roots; a bon ton Bostonian with a Harvard degree pianist—united by thirty years of love of swing continue to embrace jazz with the same happiness, faithfulness to everything that makes them unique, from Duke Ellington
to Motown to Yemen Blues. Spring Sings
will be released on jazz&people on February 23, 2024, available on CD and digital.
Why do we like Yes! Trio so much? Perhaps because the group embodies in a contemporary way all that moves us in the history of jazz, revealing it vibrant today, rather than duplicating it. Or because the members of the trio are, on paper, so dissimilar that one likes to see in their long-lasting association (thirty years) an example of what the great Max Roach
—one of Ali Jackson
’s mentors—called “a very democratic musical form.” Maybe because these musicians write and arrange compositions that deeply touch our souls, to the point where we listen to them over and over again without ever tiring of their riches. Or because their long friendship nourishes their music, and in turn their music nourishes their friendship in an exemplary way. Maybe it’s due to the constitutive elements of the genre – swing, blues, interplay, improvisation, humor, risk, the feel for phrasing, sound, and so forth—which sparkles constantly, giving the listener the feeling that jazz continues to be full of new ideas. The answer is probably a mix of all these reasons, alongside many others.
Yes! Trio is in many ways unique in the world of jazz, despite the countless piano-bass-drums trios that strive to assert their originality. Yes! Trio is unique, as are its three members, but this unit is also singular in the way in which these strong personalities articulate their presence in this format: truly equilateral, truly collaborative, truly integral. One only has to see the trio in action to realize how, during their interplay, none of the musicians play a predominant role over the others. One only has to hear them to recognize how much the responsibility of the music is fully shared. It could be said that Yes! Trio is not a trio, a provocation à la Magritte’s “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (“This Is Not A Pipe.”) Yes! Trio is a group in the sense that each of the members brings to it his experience and expertise to create something sublime together. This isn’t a trio of a pianist expecting his companions to provide foundational support for his improvisations. This isn’t a trio of a bassist who makes his instrument the key center of a triangular configuration. Nor is it the trio of a drummer who would use the group as a background to show off his skills. Yes! Trio is the idea of a trio as a single entity.
This ensemble, keep in mind, is composed of three musicians who had little chance of meeting one another and becoming friends. A drummer, Ali Jackson Jr., son of a jazzman converted to Islam, heir to an African-American family of musicians from Detroit essential to the history of jazz; spotted at the age of 12 by Wynton Marsalis himself as a future star drummer; trained by Oliver Jackson aka Bop’s Jr. (his uncle), Max Roach and Elvin Jones
; and who was for over a decade the kingpin of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Wynton Marsalis
’s flagship. An Israeli bassist, Omer Avital
, with Moroccan and Yemenite ancestors, an idealist with hippie instincts who fell in love with bebop and moved to the United States but often returned to his native soil to assimilate the musical traditions of the Maghreb and the Near East, where he learned to play the oud and co-founded the group Yemen Blues
. And a pianist from Boston, Aaron Goldberg
, born into an intellectual Jewish family with scientist parents, who ended up devoting himself to jazz despite brilliant studies at Harvard University where he obtained diplomas in History of Science and Philosophy; an outspoken democrat with a very sharp mind.
These three destinies converged at the beginning of the 1990s in a basement club, Smalls, which was for an entire generation of jazz musicians a true creative home. At the head of different groups, in particular a septet with four saxophones, Omer Avital was a mainstay at the club, performing there every week. Jackson brought his cymbals there many times; Goldberg would go there as often as he could during summers off from his prestigious university. Emblematic of a generation eager to play jazz, in contact both with fellow young players as well as the iconic creators of this music who were still alive, these three musicians created longstanding ties. Their trio is the result of countless encounters, of late-night jamming, of this like-minded community that keeps the flame of jazz alive by following in the footsteps of their elders and then extending the path. They continue to experience this passion, this love of swing, this thirst to play that have always driven them. More important than their differences, their attachment to jazz has forged their inner rhythms, and has been the backbone for the authority with which they play this music. An authority of masters, which stems as much from the lessons of the great elders as from their capacity to adapt to contemporary times.
“Spring Sings” is a new illustration of this. The album (the third from the trio) highlights three musicians in perfect osmosis who breathe together, listen and complement one another, perform with subtlety this art of conversation that is at the heart of jazz. They invent this music, cherish it as much as they play with it. Their music is animated by the vital pulsation of swing, but sometimes breaks free from it to blend with Latin claves or explore odd meters. The precision of Ahmad Jamal’s architectures rubs shoulders with Chick Corea
’s quicksilver mind; the shuffle of the Jazz Messengers’ “Blues March” resurfaces at the core of the drums with an irresistible drive; two great standards are a reminder of these musicians’ attachment to timeless melodies and their capacity to tirelessly remodel them; the Orient can be seen in the distance like an Ellingtonian rêverie, when it isn’t Claude Debussy’s harmonies that make a melody iridescent; the brushes caress a song with saudade
accents; the bassist’s glissandos are the spiritedness of an peerless story-teller; a single repeated note on the piano (a lesson from Monk) is sometimes enough to captivate the listener; the tambourine is the signal that leads us towards the ultimate pleasures of an album that is never facile and never hesitates to be a happy experience.
How could someone not love
About Ian Johnson, creator of the artwork
Born in Syracuse, NY, in 1979, Ian Johnson is an artist and illustrator. He creates portraits, mainly inspired by jazz musicians from the 1940s to 1960s, in which he explores the relationship between the spontaneous character of jazz and the physical structuring of human forms.
He is the artistic director of the skateboard brand Western Edition, much of whose production is inspired by jazz. He lives and works in San Francisco.
What the critics have to say about Yes! Trio
This sensational meeting of players is a near-perfect mixture of ingredients, bristling with braggadocious energy." –DownBeat Magazine ★★★★
Does jazz move forward by looking back? Yes, it does, if the Yes! Trio is hosting.” –JazzTimes
This trio is the clearest manifestation of a collective bond, and a shared vision of how modern jazz can feel." –Nate Chinen, WBGO
One of the wonderful aspects of the Yes! Trio, beyond their expert musicianship and sonic communication as a group, is how they celebrate many different styles.” –Next Bop
Seriously swinging but not at all indulgent or tired the trio keep it interesting and you feel the narration in the way they handle each tune." –Stephen Graham, Marlbank