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Benny Lackner Trio: Pilgrim

Dan McClenaghan By

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The Benny Lackner Trio calls itself a "collective," with each member "interjecting equally toward the construction of the material." This sef-description was certainly true of the group's previous outing, Sign of the Times (Nagel Heyer, 2006). It's an even more accurate characterization of the group's approach on Pilgrim.

The "collective" is a piano trio, with some subtle electronics added—Wurlitzer and Nord lead 2—along with a dash of electro-percussion. When you talk piano trio and equality of each member's input, you start with Bill Evans and run through Keith Jarrett and on to Brad Mehldau. Lackner and company definitely fit into the Mehldau mold: a mix of subtlety and insistence, understatement and delicate beauty underlain by a firm melodic path.

The equality part of the group dynamic is increased on Pilgrim by the songwriting contributions of bassist Derek Nievergelt and drummer Robert Perkins. On Sign of the Times they co-penned only one tune with Lackner—"Sister Love." On the present recording Nievergelt contributes five of his own tunes, and Perkins collaborates with Lackner and/or Nievergelt on four more.

Whereas Sign of the Times drew from composers like Gershwin, Bjork, Mal Waldron and Prince (how's that for a mix?), Pilgrim stays with mostly group-penned tunes, with the exception of two marvelous covers of songs written by the Canadian singer/songwriter Feist—the lovely, fragile "Lonely, Lonely" and the somber "Let It Die."

Part of the strength of this set is the sustained quiet mood. The sound is introspective and understated— no flash or pyrotechics—with lots of breathing room and first-rate musicianship, reminiscent (delving into the pop world) of Bob Dylan's John Wesley Harding (Columbia, '67) or Van Morrison's Astral Weeks (Warner Brothers, '68). A sound that caresses, seduces, and lasts.

Track Listing: Mowgla; Pilgrim; Beyond; Let it Die; Brad Plus; Blind; I Never; Lonely, Lonely; K.W.S. Nightmare; Transkei; Emma's Song.

Personnel: Benny Lackner: piano, Wurlitzer, Nord Lead 2; Robert Perkins: drums, percussion, electronic beats; Derek Nievergelt: acoustic bass, fender bass, Wurlitzer (6,7), Nord lead 2 (2).

Title: Pilgrim | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: Stray Dog Music

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