Piano Trios: Promise,The Thang & Bruxin'


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Danny Grissett
Criss Cross

Anthony Wonsey
The Thang
Sharp Nine

John Stetch
Justin Time

The piano-led jazz trio remains a vital and attractive setting for jazz improvisation. A player with a full sense of chording and a command of the piano's sonorities can provide a rich palette for melody and harmony and a solid rhythmic footing. Here is a good, tri-partite representaton of where piano sits in 2006.

Grissett is currently the pianist with trumpeter Nicholas Payton and he's terrific at finding new colors in the tradition, new ways to harmonize old tunes and at writing new tunes that, like all his other work, suggest a strong story-telling aesthetic. It's intriguing to learn that classical music was his first choice but not surprising when you hear his deep melodic sense and his sterling command. And it's obvious in his choice of tunes too. Hear his take on "You Must Believe in Spring . It starts with the sense of musical impressionism á la Debussy up through the gorgeous and richly dark statement of the theme. And spring then truly does burst forth - albeit quietly.

On Coltrane's "Moment's Notice the trio, as, Grissett notes, plays the tune and not the hit. It pulses and swings in a simple, though abstract fashion. And speaking of Coltrane, Grissett's "Where Do We Go From Here was inspired by playing a drummer's 13/4 arrangement of "Giant Steps . The tune is built upon a bar of 7/4 and a bar of 6/4 and it is, surprisingly, a hip feeling for these men to play on.

Wonsey, like Grissett, has been an in-demand player in New York. Through this experience he has been developing his own way, as he notes, to "play in the moment . There is new variety and maturity in this record - compositionally and in the arrangements.

It takes true chutzpah to attempt "All The Things You Are at this point and yet he's found new things in the melody of this jam-session favorite and freshens up the shape of the song by switching between 4/4 and waltz meters. He uses that old bebop vamp to introduce the trio - and perhaps we've heard that one too many times - but the playing on the changes has an appealing freshness and a sense that the tune is still capable of revealing new things.

Back in the '60s, pianist Ronnie Mathews had an album called Doin' The Thang and its title tune was a smart and funky jazz dance that the pianist and the horns could dig into. Wonsey does his own 'thang' here with his title tune. Guest saxophonist Eric Alexander sinks his teeth into these catchy changes as Wonsey's powerful playing offers a solid rhythmic pulse from which improvisation spins joyously. And here, as throughout, Nat Reeves on bass and Joe Farnsworth on drums, keep the time loose and together.

A treat indeed is the new outing from Stetch, one of the most truly inventive players now recording. After a very successful trilogy of solo albums for the Justin Time label, Stetch returns to the group format with a dazzlingly smart and different collection of originals.

Stetch is a virtuoso but his brilliant technique continues to unfold facets of his story (or stories). And these gentlemen - Stetch, bassist Sean Smith and drummer Rodney Green - sound like they're having a grand time as well they might be with such challenging yet thoroughly appealing material to work (play) with.

Let's start with the stunning "Heavens of a Hundred Days . Stylistically and sonically this feels like a NEW tune. It quietly goes places that we can't begin to expect and it's somehow both delicate and bold. Smith and Green are never mere timekeepers but rather continue adding colors to an ever-growing sound picture. Stetch calls "Circus a blues with a 3-chord structure, in triple meter, in the key of 3 sharps, played by 3 people - based on the image of a busy and interactive 3-ring circus. Lest that confound any listener, the piece bursts forth with power and passion and moves forward inexorably with staggering technique and artists' sense of expression.

The music on Bruxin' (the title tune is, says Stetch, "a casual jazzer's retro term for grinding the teeth subconsciously ) is adventurous and challenging but exhilarating at every turn. It's carefully thought out and yet the overall effect is one of liberating freedom.

Tracks and Personnel


Tracks: Moment's Notice; Autumn Nocturne; Promise; Where Do We Go from Here?; Cambridge Place; You Must Believe in Spring; On the Edge; Everything Happens to Me; Eleventh Hour.

Personnel: Vicente Archer: bass; Danny Grissett: piano; Kendrick Scott: drums.

The Thang

Tracks: All the Things You Are; The Thang; Pamela; Hey Jimmy; The Paper Chase; Speak Low; Overjoyed; Billy Boy.

Personnel: Joe Farnsworth: drums; Nat Reeves: bass; Anthony Wonsey: piano.


Tracks: Inuit Talk; Bruxin'; Circus; Green Grove; The Girl in the Hemp Shirt; Chord-Free Gord; How Far Is Callisto?; The Prairie Unfolds; Snark Stetch; Heavens of a Hundred Days; Rectangle Man.

Personnel: Rodney Green: drums; Sean Smith: bass; John Stetch: piano.

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