From small acorns and all that. A Dublin gig in 2019 brought Ohio-raised, Derry-based saxophonist Meilana Gillard into the orbit of bassist Dave Redmond and drummer Kevin Brady. That became the springboard for an ongoing collaboration, pandemic be damned, that celebrates their mutual commitment with this fine debut album. All but two of the twelve straight-ahead originals are freshly minted, though the trio attacks these burners and ballads with the same swagger and intuitive feeling that are the hallmarks of its live shows.
Dublin-based Brady and Redmond, a legendary rhythm team in these parts, have played and recorded with Norma Winstone, Seamus Blake, Bill Carrothers, Tommy Halferty and Larry Coryell. Over twenty years of playing together, the pair have formed a deep musical bond that elevates every project they grace. Little wonder that Gillard sought them out, perhaps intuitively knowing that they represented the missing link in her quest.
Gillard has recorded all too infrequently for a musician of her caliber since moving from Ohiovia New Yorkto Northern Ireland in 2012. RBG Trio comes six years after Dream Within A Dream (Lyte Records, 2017), an impressive outing with MOBO-nominated drummer David Lyttle and bassist Neil Ó Loclainn that nevertheless failed to germinate into something more lasting. A regular touring band in which Gillard can fully extend her voice has largely eluded her. Until now, it seems.
It is fitting that saxophone, drums and bass sound as one on the very first note of "Drip Dry," for while Gillard may boss the solo passages, this is a trio with a collective identity and a distinctive sound. Redmond and Brady swing hard, allow the music to breathe on slower fare like the seductively mournful "Centro" and the noir- tinged "Into the Dark" and provide sympathetic ballast to Gillard's mazy ruminations. Sparingly used arco, brooms, brushes and hands inject textural color throughout. Redmond also mines an apparently endless seam of terrific ostinatos that never fail to tee the trio up.
Gillard is at her best in such intuitive, forward-driving company. A tenor of the old school, her sinewy athleticism on the swinging "Chrysalis" recalls Sonny Rollins at his most tenacious, but with greater economy. There is a warmth to her tone that owes as much to soul and R&B, while the more brooding emotional currents that occasionally filter through suggest someone who has been weaned on Nirvana.
Her burrowing solo on "Learn to Surf" is a standout, her sultry uncoiling on "Take your Time" another. But whether reveling in the post-bop cauldrons of "Faultlines" and "Bending Light" or luxuriating in the slow burn of "Après" or "Deep Blue" in which this trio excels, her inventive play is consistently compelling.
A couple of alternative takes are interesting on two levels. Firstly, they hint at the in-the-moment nature of the recording session. Secondly, they stand as testament to RBG's searching soul. The trio's blueprint may be largely old-school in design, but there is a sense of purpose in the music that is hard to resist. Straight-ahead acoustic jazz at its most persuasive.
Drip Dry; Chrysalis; Centro; Learn to Surf; Take your Time; Après; Faultlines; Deep Blue; In the Dark; Drum Lullaby;
A Dude Abides; Bending Light.
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