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Piano Trio

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Piano Trio

AAJ Staff By

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When one talks about "jazz piano music," it is almost taken for granted they are talking about jazz piano trio music. The trio is and has been most jazz pianists' favorite format, and with good reason: the jazz piano trio has been said at times to represent the essence of jazz in the most condensed yet effective way possible.

A piano trio takes full advantage of swing, interaction, and dynamics. There have certainly been outstanding jazz piano trios throughout jazz history, each with its own signature sound: There is the majestic swing of the Oscar Peterson trio, the classy bop of Hank Jones and his trio, the great independence within the Bill Evans trio, and so on. Each great jazz piano trio has brought something slightly different into the fold.

As a general rule of thumb, it would seem that since 1960 piano trios have become more interactive and democratic. Formerly, in the heyday of both swing and bop, the piano assumed a very dominant role where, it would have been fair to say, it was less a trio in the ideal sense of three equal parts, than it was piano PLUS bass and drums. The Bill Evans trio was critical towards pushing the envelope for a more democratic piano trio; now we can look to fine piano trios like those of Keith Jarrett and Brad Mehldau as their continued legacy. There will always be room for more straight-ahead swinging piano trios, where bass and drums play roles more defined as timekeeping and support for the pianist, but the arc points towards greater and greater interaction.

Ahmad Jamal Trio: Cross-Country Tour
This two CD set captures one of the all-time great jazz piano trios, Jamal with Israel Crosby and Vernel Fournier, in a variety of live club settings, and includes the legendary Pershing date.
Wynton Kelly: Someday My Prince Will Come
Kelly was renown for his incredibly graceful swing and sensitive touch, here in ample display on this fine trio side. Available in a newly remastered edition.
Bill Evans Trio: Sunday at The Village Vanguard
The magical trio comprised of Bill Evans, Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian plays before an audience seemingly indifferent to the music; pay them no mind, there is plenty for the attentive listener to appreciate in this refined, nuanced statement equally delivered by three parts.
Newborn / Chambers / Haynes: We Three
A fantastic "power" trio that nonetheless plays with understated refinement throughout. All of Newborn's trio sides are worthwhile, but this is a collective triumph.
Oscar Peterson Trio: The Trio
Bassist Ray Brown and drummer Ed Thigpen here provide Oscar with a majestic cushion to roll over in this mighty call to arms of The Trio.
Hank Jones: The Trio
Similarly, one would be wise to heed the call of any Hank Jones record titled The Trio; this is eminently satisfying boppish piano jazz by one of the most undersung piano masters.
Hampton Hawes: This is Hampton Hawes: Volume 2, The Trio
Though primarily influenced by Bud Powell, Hawes transcended the status of pure bop pianist with records that were paragons of jazz piano excellence.
McCoy Tyner: Inception
McCoy sounds uncommonly melodic with Art Davis and Elvin Jones, with every tune bearing a certain romanticism in addition to the general swing-iness.
Chick Corea: Now He Sings, Now He Sobs
A brilliant conceptual piano trio record that has been studied by countless pianists, this was one of Chick's true moments of genius. "Windows" and "Matrix" have become jazz classics.
Keith Jarrett Trio: Standards Live
Start here: A live date presciently played by easily the most influential piano trio of recent years. Conceptually indebted to the Bill Evans trio, but undoubtedly its own creature as well.
Ahmad Jamal: Chicago Revisited: Live at Joe Segal's Jazz Showcase
Not to over-represent Mr. Jamal, but this set stands on its own terms as a great trio record. Jamal, who seems to makes the most of every trio situation, is shown by turns to be sophisticated, exuberant, and witty.
Lyle Mays: Fictionary
This is no fiction; a good-natured essay, perhaps, on the complex interplay and dialogue that may be achieved within the modern jazz piano trio. An odyssey of sound by three parts.
Cedar Walton Trio: Ironclad
No jazz piano trio collection is complete without an entry from the fine Cedar Walton, here live at Yoshi's with his stalwart trio of David Williams on bass and the late, great Billy Higgins on drums.
Kenny Barron: Live at Bradley's
Simply stellar mainstream piano trio music, played at the legendary venue where piano trios often ruled the roost and the stakes were high for a piano trio to deliver. Barron, Drummond and Riley show they just don't mess around —check "Alter Ego."
Marilyn Crispell: Amaryllis
A beautiful, crystalline record that shows in equal doses the empathetic potential of a piano trio and its potential to create art. Those wishing to pursue the logic of Bill Evans' trios to the extreme should start with the interactive trios of Crispell and Bley.


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