The craft of the jazz piano trio is a challenging one; and in a sea of fine trio recordings, it is hard to come by a performance that is just not merely good, as most are, but sublime
. When one comes along; it is time to be excited, and So Many Stars
is the one to be excited about.
What are the ingredients of the perfect jazz piano trio recording? One is competent leadership, in this case pianist Jon Mayer, whose previous recordingsMy Romance (Reservoir Music, 2005), The Classics (Reservoir Music, 2004), Full Circle (Reservoir Music, 2002), and Rip Van Winkle (Blue Moon, 2000)have all been well-received. Mayer possesses a sensitive East-West balance in his music, having started in New York City and presently finding himself in sunny Southern California. While his playing is all bebop, he does combine the best of both coasts' elements to make that bebop.
A secondary essential element to the perfect piano trio recording is an empathic rhythm section. In any larger combo (quartet, quintet), the piano, bass and drums are the rhythm section. Only in the trio can the bass and drums alone be considered the rhythm section. Mayer employs the unparalleled talents of Atlanta cum NYC native bassist Rufus Reid and NYC cum Southern California native drummer Roy McCurdy. Both men have been in heavy demand in the past 20 years, having collectively played with Sonny Stitt, James Moody, Milt Jackson, Curtis Fuller, Cannonball Adderley, Bobby Timmons and Dizzy Gillespie. Mayer certainly has the juice to pull together a fine trio.
A third necessary ingredient for a great trio recording is the repertoire. Mayer has chosen a bright mix of jazz standards, ballads, blues and original compositions for So Many Stars. Mayer dips into both the Great American Songbook and other jazz standards equally. For the former, the band produces airy, light-as-a-feather versions of Jules Styne's "Never Never Land and Cole Porter's "All of You. For the latter, Mayer and his stead attack Cedar Walton's "Holy Land, Horace Silver's "Nica's Dream and Miles Davis' "Blues By Five, infusing them with a quite fire and precision previously only seen in the Fred Hersch trios of the mid-1990s.
Mayer's originals also shine bright. A lengthy "Rip Van Winkle anchors the center of the disc with a blues patina on a ballad platform. Rufus Reid is particularly effective here, delivering exacting support and inventive soloing. Reid walks, strolls and jumps with Mayer and McCurdy, performing a veritable soft shoe in time. "Bopzilla is Mayer's tribute to the spawn of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, recalling an interesting combination of Bud Powell crossed with Red Garland. What a fine recording to end the year with.