In 1983, Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette released the first of their album of standards, Standards Vol. 1 (ECM). The trio's harmonic ideas, insight and collective musicianship went on to become the benchmark for reworking these well- known American songs. Together they recorded 21 albums over three decades.
Inspired by that trio's work and celebrating the 40th anniversary of that release, pianist & composer, Noah Haidu, has released Standards. He is joined by bassists Buster Williams and Peter Washington, drummer Lewis Nash and guest saxophonist Steve Wilson. In many ways, Standards could be considered the companion release to Slowly: Song for Keith Jarrett (Sunnyside, 2021), Haidu's heartfelt tribute following Jarrett's debilitating illness. After recording that album, Haidu felt drawn to the trio format in his live performances and this release has evolved from that time spent on the road.
Starting with relaxed piano and melodic bass, the album opener, "Old Folks," subtly changes to a faster pace as Nash's drums drive the tune forward. "Just in Time," follows with Williams' fluent bass lines and Nash's fluid drumming contributing in equal part to Haidu's eloquent piano touch. "A Beautiful Friendship" opens with supple bass and swings throughout. Haidu's delicate style comes to the fore in the gentle "All the Way" as Nash and Williams hold back just enough to let the track breathe. Having played on the first four tracks, Williams makes way for Washington to take up bass duties for the rest of the album. He starts with a fluent improvisation, along with Haidu, on "Someday My Prince Will Come."
Haidu then picks the perfect moment to introduce acclaimed saxophonist, Steve Wilson on two tracks. The mood immediately changes as his alto takes centre stage on the fast moving "You and the Night and the Music." The Wayne Shorter composition, "Ana Maria" follows. Shorter wrote this piece for his wife, who passed away, along with their niece, on TWA flight 800. The playing is soulful and reverent and as Haidu states: "With the loss of Ana Maria, Dalila and of Wayne himself, this song now embodies the narrative of loss in so many ways."
Hoagy Carmichael's "Skylark" is a solo piano piece and is admirably executed. Haidu is at his bluesy best while Washington and Nash provide compelling support on the uplifting "I Thought About You." The album could end there, but another change sees Wilson return on "Last Dance I" and "Last Dance II." These are both Haidu compositions rather than standards. Named after a Jarrett recording and composed in tribute to his Standards trio and their final concert at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. They feature energised solos from Wilson and Haidu. The contemporary feel adds another facet to the album.
Many of the tracks featured on the album were part of Jarrett, Peacock and DeJohnette's catalogue. They are all played with vitality and appropriate respect. The variety of mood and texture, the track sequencing and the use of the different musicians, all ensure that the album sustains interest throughout. They have served Haidu with inspiration for a connection which he has distilled into a clear contemporary musical statement of his own. Highly recommended.
Old Folks; Just In Time; Beautiful Friendship; All The Way; Someday My Prince Will Come; You and The Night and The Music; Ana Maria; Skylark; I Thought About You; Last Dance I; Last Dance II.
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