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Recent Piano Music


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Small groups featuring piano continue to work their individual brands of magic throughout the jazz world. Here are some examples from the last few months.

Ray Gallon
Make Your Move
Cellar Live

Pianist Ray Gallon has been around for over thirty-five years playing with the likes of Lionel Hampton and Ron Carter but, surprisingly, this is his first recording as a leader. He displays a nimble, relaxed style here. He shows a playfulness on "Craw Daddy" and "Out Of Whack" that brings Thelonious Monk to mind and he attacks the fast tempos of "Harm's Way" and "Plus One" with rich flourishes reminiscent of Bud Powell or Tadd Dameron. His elaborate but delicate treatment of "I Don't Stand A Ghost Of A Chance" also shows he knows his way around a ballad. Bassist David Wong and drummer Kenny Washington consistently give him sensitive support and Gallon sounds like he's enjoying every minute of this session.

Roberto Magris
Shuffling Ivories
JMOOD Records

Pianist Roberto Magris takes a break from his usual trio and sextet formats to record this set of duets with bassist Eric Hochberg. In this informal setting he explores older jazz forms in addition to playing the work of Cal Massey and Andrew Hill. Magris touches on swing as he and Hochberg ride easy through "I've Found A New Baby," show their romantic side on "Memories Of You" and sway brightly through the gospel-blues feeling of "The Time Of This World Is At Hand." Magris even tries his hand at stride on a resonant solo version of Eubie Blake's "The Chevy Chase" Hochberg takes the lead twice in the set, bowing on Massey's "Quiet Dawn" and plucking on Magris' own "Italy" as the pianist fills in the background space. This is a relaxed but impressively executed duo session.

Spike Wilner Trio
Aliens & Wizards
Cellar Live

Spike Wilner manages the New York jazz clubs Smalls and Mezzrow as well as carrying on as a performing pianist. Here he leads his trio through a hard-charging set. "Righty-O!" and "Trick Baby" fly and dance from the first notes while on "Stella By Starlight," Wilner's melodic explorations are held in place by the rolling grooves of the rhythm section, bassist Tyler Mitchell and drummer Anthony Pinciotti. The CD's title track is a spacey blend of freefalling piano runs and improvised bass and drum movement while "Adagio" and "Prayer For Peace" have the trio leaning into simple folk-based themes with quiet grace and earnest feeling.

Philippe Lemm Trio
First Steps
Outside In Music

This piano trio is actually led by the drummer, Philippe Lemm, who sets the music's varying tones through a variety of percussive approaches, from floating ambient movement on "Elysian Voices" to sharp break beats on "The Kiln" and "Caffeinated Souls" and more conventional drumming elsewhere. There are a lot of different sounds heard here, such as martial drama led by Angelo di Loreto's piano cascades on "Malambo," a languid soul groove on Joni Mitchell's "River" and the drifting peace of "Elysian Voices" featuring the vibe work of guest Simon Moullier. The loveliest sounds come on a cover of Peter Gabriel's "Don't Give Up" dominated by Di Loreto's lilting treatment of the melody. This trio is pleasantly versatile but unfortunately this is probably the last time they will be heard, since pianist Angelo Di Loreto passed away in October 2020.

Satoko Fujii Tokyo Trio
Moon on the Lake

This is Satoko Fujii's first recording in the classic piano trio format since 2013 but given her overall body of work, rest assured nobody would mistake this for a Bill Evans album. Fujii and her bandmates, bassist Takashi Sugawa and drummer Ittetsu Takemura often occupy the same space but rarely play together at the same time. "Hansho" has each musician doing extended solo ruminations between bursts of one of Fujii's harsh prog-rockish melodies. On "Wait For The Moon To Rise" a doomy tango emerges out of a cavern of scraped and whistling noises. This together-but-alone approach continues through the intense agitation of "Aspiration," the swift patterns of "Keep Running" and the gauzy mood of "Moon On The Lake" where faint manipulation of the piano strings and keys gradually coalesces into a delicate romantic outline filled in by cello and cymbal washes. This trio brings a new dimension of fullness and tension to Fujii's music.

Michael Wolff
Live @ Vitellos
Sunnyside Records

Finally there is this live set from pianist Michael Wolff recorded at the Los Angeles jazz club Vitellos in 2011. This is a quartet session featuring trumpeter Mark Isham who matches up well with Wolff's emotive piano on the moody balladry of "Ballad Noir" and "The Conversation." The free-flowing pulse of the '60s Miles Davis quartet is evoked through elegant readings of two Wayne Shorter compositions from that era, "Fall" and "Nefertiti." Drummer Mike Clark is a funk legend through his '70s work with Herbie Hancock and he pus his stamp on the proceedings with the tough grooves of "Falling Down" and "Loft Funk." Isham and Wolff chop and flash over his intricate beats while bassist John B. Williams keeps the groove fat and hot.

Tracks and Personnel

Make Your Move

Tracks: Kitty Paws; Out Of Whack; Craw Daddy; Harm's Way; Back To The Wall; I Don't Stand A Ghost of a Chance; That's The Question; Hanks A Lot; Yesterdays; Plus One; Make Your Move.

Personnel: Ray Gallon: piano; David Wong: bass; Kenny Washington: drums.

Shuffling Ivories

Tracks: Shuffling Ivories; I've Found A New Baby; Clef Club Jump; Memories Of You; The Time Of This World Is At Hand; Quiet Dawn; Laverne; Anysha; Italy; The Chevy Chase; Laverne -Take 2.

Personnel: Roberto Magris: piano; Eric Hochberg: bass.

Aliens & Wizards

Tracks: Righty-O!; Non Troppo; Adagio; Mindset; Blue Gardenia; Stella By Starlight; Aliens & Wizards; Prayer For Peace; Trick Baby.

Personnel: Spike Wilner: piano; Tyler Mitchell: bass; Anthony Pinciotti: drums.

First Steps

Tracks: The Kiln; MIca; River; Malambo; August; Elysian Voices; Kalief; Don't Give Up; Trenke Todorke; Caffeinated Souls.

Personnel: Philippe Lemm: drums; Angelo Di Loreto: piano; Jeff Koch: bass; Simon Moullier: vibes (1,7); Keita Ogawa: percussion (5).

Moon On The Lake

Tracks: Hansho; Wait For The Moon To Rise; Aspiration; Keep Running; Moon On The Lake.

Personnel: Satoko Fujii: piano; Takashi Sugawa: bass, cello; Ittetsu Takemura: drums.

Live @ Vitellos

Tracks: Ballad Noir; Lagniappe; Fall; Falling Down; The Conversation; Nefertiti; Loft Funk.

Personnel: Michael Wolff: piano; Mark Isham: trumpet, flugelhorn; Mike Clark: drums; John B. Williams: bass.

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