Three Piano Trios: From Swing to Post-Bop

Ken Dryden By

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While major jazz labels are leaning heavily to signings of pop artists to beef up their bottom lines, several independent labels, including Origin, the newly formed Fabola and the established Arbors Records are sticking with jazz exclusively. On these three discs are pianists a generation apart in age and with very different approaches.

Jay Lawrence Trio
Thermal Strut
Origin Records

Drummer Jay Lawrence has played with a range of pop artists and jazz musicians, though his name is probably not that well known. On Thermal Strut he is joined by seasoned bassist Lynn Seaton and the promising young pianist Tamir Hendelman (the latter who contributed many of the arrangements for this session). Lawrence clearly is a capable drummer but it is the playing of Hendelman, who has served with both the Jeff Hamilton Trio and the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, that especially stands out. He recasts the swing favorite "Topsy as an explosive hard bop vehicle, while his interpretation of Jimmy Rowles' lush ballad "The Peacocks is a bit more melancholy in its spacious arrangement. Hendelman's sole original is the gorgeous ballad "Almost Summer , which conveys its message without getting overly sentimental.

Hal Galper
Agents of Change
Record Fabola

Hal Galper got fed up with the music business a few years ago and seemed to drop virtually off the face of the earth, last releasing a CD of his own in 1999. Agents of Change is a welcome return, featuring bassist Tony Marino and drummer Billy Mintz in a post-bop session that often has the rhythm section floating a bit freely underneath Galper. The leader seems more aggressive in his playing, while also stretching the expected boundaries with his demanding charts. His revival of his '70s tribute to Chet Baker, "Waiting For Chet , seems even more turbulent in its latest interpretation. "On Green Dolphin Street can be played on autopilot by most seasoned musicians, so Galper uses its well-known chord changes as background for some dense, over-the-top improvisations. The one relatively straight ahead performance is "Dear Old Stockholm , though Galper gives it a much darker edge.

John Bunch
John Bunch at the Nola Penthouse Salutes Jimmy Van Heusen
Arbors Records

John Bunch's studio recording At the Nola Penthouse is a trio songbook of memorable works by Jimmy Van Heusen. Since most of these works are best known for as hits for various singers, particularly by Frank Sinatra, the pianist sought to bring something fresh to each piece and he succeeds with solid support from bassist David Green and drummer Steve Brown (who sticks to brushes during most of the session). He transforms "But Beautiful from a slow, dreamy ballad into a jaunty swinger, while casting "The Second Time Around with a decidedly bittersweet air. Bunch is more traditional in his approach to some of these standards, taking few liberties with the lovely "Imagination and slowly savoring "Here's That Rainy Day at a deliberate tempo. Now in his 80s, John Bunch remains one of the most lyrical jazz pianists active today.

Tracks and Personnel

Thermal Strut

Tracks: Thermal Strut; Topsy; Tell Me a Bedtime Story; Love for Sale; Almost Summer; Opus de Funk; You Can't Do That; Eulogy; Agua de Beber; The Peacocks.

Personnel: Jay Lawrence: drums; Lynn Seaton: bass; Tamir Hendelman: piano.

Agents of Change

Tracks: E.S.P.; How Deep is the Ocean; Liquid Audio; Waiting For Chet; Dear Old Stockholm; On Green Dolphin Street; Solar.

Personnel: Hal Galper: piano; Tony Marino: bass; Billy Mintz: drums.

John Bunch at the Nola Penthouse Salutes Jimmy Van Heusen

Tracks: All This and Heaven Too; Nancy With the Laughing Face; I Thought About You; Darn That Dream; But Beautiful; Imagination; It Could Happen to You; The Second Time Around; Like Someone in Love; Polka Dots and Moonbeams; Come Fly With Me; Here's That Rainy Day; Call Me Irresponsible; Moonlight Becomes You; Last Dance.

Personnel: John Bunch: piano, Dave Green: bass, Steve Brown: drums.


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