Three By Three: The Evolving Art Of The Trio - Brian Schwarz Trio, Three For All, Edward Simon

C. Michael Bailey By

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The jazz trio is a tradition within a tradition—jazz chamber music, small spaces, intimate places—and it's an evolving tradition. The standard trio is piano, bass and drums, but this has been expanded to include many other instrumental combinations. Here are three recent trio releases spanning standard and not-so-standard line-ups—trumpet-guitar-bass; saxophone-bass-drums; and piano-bass-drums.

Brian Swartz Trio
Summit Records

Three is the latest album by trumpeter/flugelhornist Brian Swartz. Swartz's previous disc, Live At The Jazz Bakery (Summit Records, 2005), was a well-received, live quartet date. Here, Swartz opts for the smaller confines of a guitar-bass-trumpet trio. Not the standard jazz trio to be sure, but very effective in conveying musical space and time. The choice of instrumentation all but guarantees a quiet, introspective date and that is what Swartz and friends deliver.

In such a small structure, trio instruments become distinct entities, easily identified and attuned to. Swartz navigates from the pinched staccato of the opening "Samba De Outono to the creamy open bell of "I Don't Stand A Ghost Of A Chance. Bassist Darek Oles and guitarist Larry Koonse assimilate and dissimilate at will to provide the vibe for Swartz. On "Ghost Of A Chance the two sound melded in the introduction, separating only for solos. The effect is interesting and novel. "My Shining Hour and "How Deep Is The Ocean are taken up tempo, but are never loud or sloppy. Swartz plays his best be-bop on the former, expressing 64th notes like a machine gun. Oles and Koonse propel the leader forward and together swing hard enough to induce nosebleed. "Ocean is less frenetic but still swings with certainty, with Koonse executing Joe Pass chording.

Three has the feel of an intimate club date, with sets populated by well-considered standards and clever originals. And the bass was the largest instrument to carry.

Three for All
We Three
Challenge Jazz

We Three is a trio of giants, composed of winds-fixture Dave Liebman, ubiquitous bassist Steve Swallow, and accomplished drummer Adam Nussbaum. With a line up like this, the listener might expect something a bit out of the ordinary and that is precisely what he or she gets. If Dave Liebman is in the picture, Thelonious Monk cannot be far behind, and indeed that master appears on the rarely covered "Played Twice. Liebman's soprano tone is sharp and tart in the head and then lazily lags into the solo, supported by Swallow's elastic bass fiddling. The trio relationship here is more about contrapuntal interplay than ensemble performance. The players stop just short of going their separate ways and maintain the common groove.

The Monkian spirit of "Played Twice infuses this disc with adventure and abstraction. The disc opens on a funky spunky note with "What Time Is It, with all on board for a boisterous ride. Adam Nussbaum's "We Three is introduced by a lengthy soprano saxophone figure before stretching into a nuevo ballade with Steve Swallow's signature strummed bass. When soloing, Swallow chooses a circuitous harmonic path that broadens the composition's time. Swallow returns the favor of composition with "Up And Adam, where Liebman plays tenor over a treacherous time signature nailed down by Nussbaum and Swallow (Monk is never far away).

The standard "I Only Have Eyes For You is presented with a Swallow pizzicato introduction before Liebman's tenor flows in languidly over Nussbaum's light tom-tom play. Miles Davis' "All Blues is taken at a full waltz, Liebman's soprano saxophone presenting the theme with virtuosic conviction. Trio dates don't get much better than this one. If We Three is where the saxophone trio has come since Sonny Rollins' trios in the late '50s, then the direction must be right.

Edward Simon
Cam Jazz

A native of Venezuela, pianist Edward Simon began his career playing Latin music before migrating to jazz while in Philadelphia, where he worked with local bassist Charles Fambrough. A member of both Bobby Watson's Horizon and Terence Blanchard's group, Simon was also a finalist in the 1994 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition. Unicity, Simon's eighth recording as a leader, sports the rhythm section from Wayne Shorter's acoustic band, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade. Simon composed the lion's share of the ten pieces on the record, illustrating his idea of democratic improvisation, Simon's effort to provide composition that is elastic enough to indulge the musical imaginations of all band members.

Simon's compositions are light, airy and artfully conceived. "Invocation has hints of the post-Bill Evans territory staked out by Alan Broadbent. Patitucci's bass flits in and out of an impressionistic introduction, before breaking into a straight-ahead jazz performance transected with 6/8 alternating with 4/4 signatures. The bassist's own "The Messenger affords the bassist and pianist ample solo room. Simon's support of Patitucci is assertive without being distractive. Brian Blade performs with the greatest grace, never trampling the melody instruments. His easy swing and sure time keep the fiesta in the groove.

Taken in total, Unicity is a jazz suite performed by the best players and improvisers the music has to offer. It's the finest trio recording I expect to hear this year. Edward Simon warrants our attention and praise.

Tracks and Personnel


Tracks: Samba De; Outono I've Never Been In Love Before; My Shining Hour; Mi Sonita; I Thought About You; Emily; A Ghost Of A Chance; Out Of View; Poor Butterfly; The Best Thing For You Is Me; How Deep Is The Ocean?; Father To Many.

Personnel: Brian Swartz: trumpet; Larry Koonse: guitar; Darek Oles: bass.

We Three

Tracks: What Time Is It; Played Twice; We 3; Up And Adam; The Jewish Warrior; Whistling Past The Graveyard; I Only Have Eyes For You; Cycling; All Blues Listen; The Start Of Something Small; BTU.

Personnel: David Liebman: saxophones; Steve Swallow: bass; Adam Nussbaum: drums.


Tracks: Invocation; The Messenger; Abiding Unicity; Gevriasolas; The Midst Of Chaos; Prelude N.9; Pathless Path; Evolution; Eastern; Abiding Unicity (Reprise).

Personnel: Edward Simon: piano; Steve Swallow: bass; Brian Blade: drums.



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