Pianist Don Preston brings together an unusual combination of composure and freedom on his trio disc Transformation. While most of these pieces assume a reflective posture, the group also takes its liberties and spikes the mix with a good dose of healthy dissonance. That unassuming energy may reflect itself as melodic flights around the edges of formal harmony, as on "The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue." Or it may advance through stuttering collective improvisation, as on "Walking BatterieWoman." The key forces that make this combination work are Preston's careful ambivalence with formal structure, bassist Joel Hamilton's unpretentious versatility, and drummer Alex Cline's light but insistent touch on the drums.
As Transformation progresses, the recording offers tunes that respect the vast tradition of the jazz piano trio. Preston's group works quite comfortably within boundariesas revealed on the sentimental spiritual, "Inner Blues," and the swinging up-tempo number, "The Donkey." But even within the context of formal structure, Preston is eager to take an occasional step "out." Perhaps the most emphatic statement in this regard is the wide-open title track, where each player gets the opportunity to make an intensely personal statement, before converging together on a rolling theme. Preston sounds a lot like Don Pullen hereplaying dense, thrusting chords and sweeping glissandi.
Preston may borrow elements from other pianists, like gospelly decorations or gothic architecture, but his style remains distinctively his own. When he offers vocals on the closing track (eg. "Time and Space!"), he definitely quirks things up. But rather than detracting from the group's cohesion, his adventures endow it with a special charm. The receptive listener may find himself queueing up expectantly for intergalactic transport. Transformation may be a bit restrained for the free jazz set, or a bit abstract for admirers of the traditionbut those are both advantages in my book.
The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbeque; Walking BatterieWoman; Inner Blues (not a blues); I Love You; The Lind Sonata; Ode to the Flower Maiden; The Donkey; Transformation; The Prehistoric Eons.