The piano trio can be a difficult format for free playing. It is too easy for the piano, so easily a dominating instrument, to overshadow the bassist and drummer, rendering them as backup to the more harmonically complex keyboard. This is fine, and an enormous amount of great music has been made in this format, but when it comes to more exploratory veins of jazz, it is difficult for a group to exhibit the simpatico required for simultaneous creativity and, on the part of the pianist especially, restraint. Yet Bob Gluck Trio's Returning makes it all look easy.
To be fair, the trio is comprised of three veteran musicians. Gluck is an accomplished and well-respected pianist in the field and bassist Michael Bisio's prodigious output includes work with Matthew Shipp and innumerable projects of his own, while drummer Dean Sharp has played with musicians as diverse as Moby, Brad Mehldau and Elliott Sharp. Despite their diverse backgrounds however, they sound custom-fit here, settling in immediately on the opening "Lifelife," with a lyrical theme that meanders around a central descending line before opening outward. The group's skill for loosely flowing improvisation fills in the blanks between the careful constructions of Bill Evans' trio work and Cecil Taylor's richly complex energy. That is a large space indeed, and within it the group finds a sound all its own.
The title track opens with a Bisio solo, richly recorded and confident in its punchy execution, before Sharp and Gluck snap it into focus with the song's melody. Sharp scampers around his kit, sitting in distinct sound worlds for a time, re-contextualizing Bisio and Gluck's fairly steady playing around him. The drummer even moves into percussive sounds that recall Henry Threadgill's work on his self-made hubkaphone. It is a richly varied piece.
Elsewhere, Gluck's tendency toward more classical sounding themes emerges. "That's All You Got?" recalls Conlon Nancarrow's "Study for Player Piano No. 24," its staccato theme quickly settling into a groovy meander through variations on its waltz-like nature. "By a Field" is, on the other hand, more brooding and less playful, Sharp's clattering metallic jangles and cymbal bows careening through Bisio and Gluck's fluttering lines.
"Something Quiet" is, as the title suggests, a sparsely played piece for a rainy day. It contains the same qualities of romance that are a strain throughout the record, but in a more subdued vein that speaks to the record's conclusion. It is a fitting finale to a beautifully executed album.
Lifeline; Returning; That's All You Got; By a Field; There's No There There; Vertigal; Something Quiet.
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