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The Bobo Stenson Trio at Birdland

Budd Kopman By

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Bobo Stenson Trio
Bobo Stenson: piano, Anders Jormin: bass, Paul Motian: drums
Birdland, New York City March 18, 2006
Birdland was packed for the 9 pm show as the crowd anxiously awaited the entrance of the trio. This was the last night of a three night stand, and, from the moment that Stenson, Jormin and Motian started playing, one could hear the sensitivity and extremely honed musical reflexes of the individual musicians that make up the trio. This is the trio that recorded Goodbye with Paul Motian replacing Jon Christensen. Motian does not travel any more, so this particular trio will only happen when Stenson and Jormin travel to New York City.

Stenson immediately showed his predilection for mixing jazz with classical music by starting with a Mussorgsky piece that slowly took shape, gradually coalescing into the full sound of three individual voices intricately meshing. Joking that he was moving to "another favorite country of yours, Cuba" Stenson announced the beautiful "Oleo de mujer con sombrero" by Silvio Rodrigo (from War Orphans) that sung from his fingers on the Bosendorfer piano. "Music For A While" by Henry Purcell (from Goodbye) again showed the classical connection as Jormin announced the bass ground line, the progression of which, if played in a swing rhythm, would be easily accepted as jazz. Following this were two pieces by Jormin where he took center stage, playing with his mix of effortlessness, emotion, and technique in the service of music.

Stenson is not a flamboyant player and, even though this was billed as his trio, did not commandeer the solo space, allowing Jormin plenty of room. Jormin, whose playing is light as a feather and yet forcefully dramatic with his enormous technique always at the disposal of the music, unrolled many melodic lines while maintaining contact with the harmony. Motian, for his part, maintained a background intensity in his elliptical style of constant commentary, getting loud only once. The three players each moved to the front and retreated as the others adjusted subtley, producing a constant ebb and flow that pulled the audience along.

A Tony Williams tune, "There Comes A Time" provided the tightest, fastest groove, as if Stenson wanted to make sure we knew that he could do this also. "Serenity," by Charles Ives (from Serenity) ("we finally got to your country") was one of the emotional highlights as Jormin played most of his part in harmonics (much more than the recorded version) as Stenson filled in with trenchant, sharp chords and Motian provided a wash of cymbals, with not a sound from the audience which held its collective breath.

The set closed quite naturally with "Goodbye," the title tune of the album, written by Gordon Jenkins. Long used by Benny Goodman to end his shows, the Stensonian version managed to simultaneously cut to its emotional core while never really playing the melody outright.

The audience was there to listen intently, and it did, totally engrossed in the subtle, yet lyrical music that Stenson, Jormin and Motian created.

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