For those who may be inclined towards the subtle dynamics and interplay of the Bill Evans Trio sound, a record cut by a Canadian piano trio led by the pianist Chris Gestrin, may indeed be a welcome presence in your collection.
That so-cogent sound which has since been extended on through Keith Jarrett and now onto trios like those of Fred Hersch, Marc Copland and Brad Mehldau, is unveiled here anew by this no- name trio from north-of-the-border and is done so with as much expression, discreetness of sound and tight interplay as any of the trios led the artists mentioned.
On that note, this disc is (b)quite a pleasant surprise. One does not typically expect this much artistry and maturity from an set of musicians who are as yet unheard-of and have no formal presence on "the scene". Of course we are not likely to hear much about the Canadian jazz scene in the first place. We know Oscar Peterson, Diana Krall, and well- that's about it. At least what we are told in our American jazz magazines. And this of course is only a loss if there are other Canadian jazz musicians creating music of this caliber. This Vancouver-based trio will surprise.
Onto the music program and it's unique rewards. There are both standard tunes and originals here, with a weight given toward the originals, and a couple of Monk tunes among the standards.
The opening cut "In the Wee Hours of the Morning", is a very ruminative foray into a standard tune and which most definitely harkens to the way the Keith Jarrett trio treats ballads. It is fine, and not derivative of Jarrett to the expense of Gestrin's own vision (as the rest of the set surely confirms.) Having said that, Gestrin subtly nods to McCoy Tyner in the voicings that he uses to close out the tune- obviously he is versed enough in the jazz piano vocabulary enough to combine disparate influences in a cohesive fashion. McCoy Tyner and Bill Evans' trios were about as far apart conceptually as one could "conceive" of.
"Autumn Leaves" is very much of the Mehldau-type inflection. As such it is probably the least unique set number here. Still, for those who are very fond of that sound, this cut sounds as good as the Mehldau trio would in playing the same tune.
The Monk tunes mentioned are "Bemsha Swing" and "Round Midnight." "Bemsha.." is given a crafty reworking that Brad Mehldau would be hard-pressed to surpass even with his initiative on "Monk's Dream". By the Gestrin trio's measure, "Bemsha" sounds noir-ish and more in the vein of understated acoustic funk than straight-ahead Monkian bop. Drummer Dylan Van Der Schyff provides a loose but completely steady backbeat in a manner reminscent of Idris Muhammad on the tune, and leads as the tune picks up a bluesier, funky feel heading into Gestrin's solo.
Whereas, "Round Midnight seems to be played at an even keel; it moves along slow and casually at first, but of course, things inevitably start to pick up and the tune becomes more deliberate in its execution. It is as fine a trio rendition of the Monk-Hawkins chestnut as I have heard; comparable to the excellence of Kenny Barron's trios in playing Monk. The feature of quiet brush patter on the snare drum is a nice case for nuance also.
The reviewer would be remiss in not saying more about the originals on this disc. They are all worthy and interesting, if not always memorable taken on their own terms, but display more than anything else the high level of empathy within the trio and its ability to convert impressionistic inclinations into a bona-fide theatre of dynamics.
It was really the adaptations of standards that made this disc shine though. And on that note, it is nice to see that one does not have to be "Keith Jarrett" or "Brad Mehldau" to accomplish such excellence in the reworking of standards.
This young trio hailing from Canada has proven it is worthy of serious consideration here as a piano trio. May they only receive greater recognition from outside of Canada as they continue to develop their repertoire and their trio conception, for it would be a certain shame were they to remain purely "Canadian" in their notoriety.
A final note: Being a piano jazz fan supreme, "Trio" by the Chris Gestrin is one of my early candidates for best piano jazz record of the year. It is a fully discreet and thoughtful trio work and should be accorded as such. Even though it is not on the Warner Bros.
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