The piano trio, in one form or another, has been a jazz staple since the 1930s, and consequently skews toward the familiar. Fortunately, there are those atypical artists who invite a deeper dive for the uninhibited. Nothing could be more challenging, interesting and listenable than the music Bob Gluck creates within that formation. Like his Something Quiet (FMR Records 2010), Gluck's Returning is a brilliant collection of uniquely modern jazz. Throughout, it is a passionate and riveting performance with rhythmic support and outstanding solo work from ground-breaking bassist Michael Bisio and inspired drummer Dean Sharp.
The opening track confirms that Gluck is in the league of postmodern innovators like Paul Bley, Ran Blake and Cecil Taylor. "Lifeline" is as adventurous as it is entrancing, with a clear, almost serene, melody surrounded by a good deal of improvisation. The title track is a small epic of shape-shifting creativity driven by Sharp's astonishing array of tones, using every part of the kit. Bisio has two outstanding solos here: the first pizzicato treatment is broken up with Gluck's fine solo, followed by Bisio's arco return. This is a big, inventive, complex piece that finally drifts out so unassumingly that it demands to be replayed.
No-one in Gluck's trio fades into the background for very long; there is always a high level of engagement and contribution. Solo and group expressions can explode in untamed shouts then recover in affecting phrases of anticipation. "By a Field" opens with a balladic solo from Gluck before Sharp literally chimes in. and the pianist finds his way to a brief, classically influenced passage. At that point, things get considerably freer. In the midst of these time and theme changes, Bisio has made his way in with a deep, woody backdrop that evolves into a mesmeric solo. The piece closes much as it began, with subdued support from Bisio.
The collection concludes with "Something Quiet," a piece related in name only to Gluck's previous recording. It is a meditative and beautiful work that serves as a cool down after the challenge. Gluck masters the balance of structure and improvisation throughout this suite of very forward-thinking pieces. As texturally different as the pieces are, there is a seamless narrative flow from one to another. Each of the nine original compositions breathes with an edgy creativity. Gluck, Bisio and Sharp have produced a truly unique collection of music on Returning.
Lifeline; Returning; That's All You Got; By a Field; There's No There There; Vertigal; Something Quiet.
Bob Gluck: piano; Michael Bisio: bass; Dean Sharp: drums.