These guys cover a lot of ground; you can tell by looking at the selections. The first three are the jazz perennial “On Green Dolphin Street”, the ancient warhorse “A Bicycle Built for Two”, and Ornette Coleman’s “The Blessing”. (This was covered by John Coltrane, who is also represented here.) With confidence and a varied technique, they march on, aiming to state the old in a new way. Their aim is true.
“Green Dolphin” starts faster than normal, with a heavy left hand and the melody stated softly, almost as an afterthought. The cymbals slash, and Michael Stevens gets some funky licks in. Tim Ferguson’s bass is in the Scott LaFaro “big guitar” mode, a departure from his normal deep sound. “Bicycle” is slow and gentle, almost in George Winston territory. Along the path are some odd chords and sour notes, putting the bicycle in the 20th Century. The notes describe it as “wistful”, and I will not argue. Stevens’ approach, and Siegel’s drumwork, remind you of the Bill Evans trio. Some bleeps near the end might be the bell, as the bicycle drives away.
“The Blessing” (perhaps Ornette’s most conventional tune) is treated like the bop tune it sounds like. Ferguson is back to his old-school tone; in his varied use of the kit, Siegel sounds like Shelly Manne did in the ‘Fifties. Stevens gets dissonant near the end, resolving into smooth chords and the theme. The rapid changing of spots is welcome in this song – and this group; it’s one of their great skills.
“Threads” is a burner by Siegel; tons of drums and a very bluesy Stevens. He normally does this a few bars at a time; given a whole song to go blue, Stevens glows. Siegel’s solo rotates the kit – the first section is cymbals, then snares, tom-toms, and a little bit of everything. A mournful bass opens “Morning Song”, and the cheery piano dispels the night of the bass. This almost sounds like classical music, and a great example of sound painting a picture. As it progresses, Stevens gets more lush, and the sun keeps rising. A neat Stevens arrangement makes “Yesterdays” sound like “Giant Steps”! We then get a major solo from Siegel, a pensive Ferguson, and gentle chords from Stevens. Stevens’ own solo is lyrical, with the little sourballs he likes throwing in. Another turn from Siegel, and we are back in Coltrane country, which prepares us for “After the Rain”.
Ferguson strums a chord as Stevens gets tender. The bass soars, the drums sparkle. And Stevens comes on in a great crash of sound -–not Tyner level, but still impressive. He then gets active, with lots of little phrases played very fast – Cecil Taylor. Siegel responds with pure thunder, and Stevens ends with little tinkles which I guess are the last of the raindrops.
And still the moods change. “Almost a Rhythm Tune” is a forceful strutter, with high-stepping drums and ferocious bass. (As you’d expect, it’s sort of based on “I Got Rhythm”.) Stevens is loud and depressed, ringing the off-center notes as he goes. “Sir Roland” is Siegel’s tribute to his employer. It’s based on “A Night in Tunisia” and Stevens becomes the funk merchant, dropping juicy chords everywhere. Ferguson is the solid bottom and Siegel goes wild. “Astor’s Place” is an ominous tango, with bowed parts from Ferguson (in places he sounds like a baritone sax!) Stevens is warm, showing chords between clipped single notes. And “Angel Eyes” gives us Latin rhythm and edgy piano. Stevens is lonely and depressed as night grows darker. The blues get stronger and so does the rhythm. Stevens gets real lush before the theme resumes and the loveliness returns. Alas, not for long; for that you need to hit the repeat button.
This takes the promise of the trio’s One of a Kind album and moves it further. The tunes are varied, the interplay is tremendous, and the performances are excellent. For anyone who thinks a piano trio can’t surprise them.