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Billy Childs/Buster Williams/Carl Allen: Skim Coat

Ed Kopp By

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Skim Coat brings together three highly compatible players: Billy Childs (piano), Buster Williams (bass) and Carl Allen (drums). It’s a thoughtful but accessible modern jazz album—the perfect accompaniment to a pot of coffee and the Sunday newspaper.

Metropolitan Records owner Stan Chovnick recruited this trio on the strength of its performance at a 1998 jazz educators conference in New York. A year later the educators were still buzzing about the band's appearance in the Big Apple, and it's easy to hear why. These three players share a special chemistry.

Childs’playing is often compared to Herbie Hancock’s, but the L.A. native has been carving out his own niche for some time now. He's a monster pianist, and his two songs here are high points on the album. Williams is an assertive bassist who’s played with Hancock, Sonny Stitt, Kenny Barron, Sarah Vaughan and dozens more. The veteran bassist contributes three diverse tunes to Skim Coat. Can't forget Allen, an experienced drummer in the Art Blakey mold who lends plenty of texture to these nine tracks.

The trio creates a sense of unfolding emotion on these tunes, four of which are covers. "Surrey With the Fringe on Top" and Childs’ "The Winds of Change" are very different tracks, but each follows a similar pattern: Childs establishes the melodic theme before plunging into a spirited bop segment, which segues into a crisp response from Williams. Allen pushes a strong undercurrent before Childs restates the theme. "Surrey" is recognizable but bop-oriented, with a hint of Bud Powell.

"You Don’t Know What Love Is" is given a heady post-bop treatment. The title track is a skittery number with varying tempos and unexpected turns. The trio plays it straight on Cole Porter's "Every Time We Say Goodbye," a gorgeous slow waltz. Bass solos seldom thrill me, but Buster Williams delivers a real beauty here, and all of his solos on Skim Coat are intense but direct. Williams' composition "Deja" is a radiant reverie, and the CD closes with his fast bop ramble "Deceptacon."

Childs impresses throughout. He communicates the comfortable essence of each melody before escorting the listener to different stimulating places. Childs is a piano man to watch closely in the 2000s.

As a soundtrack for meditative relaxation, Skim Coat is hard to beat. This is substantive mainstream jazz delivered from the heart.

Title: Skim Coat | Year Released: 2000

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