Pianist Bill Cunliffe
was asked if he would be interested in doing a trio record with rhythm section legends John Patitucci
and Vinnie Colaiuta
. Naturally he said yes, both immediately and excitedly. "Right now" was the answer when he asked when. Patitucci and Colaiuta were already set-up in a studio at Le Coq Records, and Cunliffe was already there on other business. This impromptu session was void of any rehearsal or sheet music. They played all standards, all from memory. Interplay and improvisation was on overdrive as they were watching each other and playing off each other.
With no setlist, Cunliffe just called out a tune and off they went. Miles Davis
is always a good call and the first one made here. Although written by George Shearing
, "Conception" is a tune mostly associated with Davis. Patitucci's thick rich upright established early, Colaiuta brought his nuanced reactions from start to finish, and Cunliffe played as if he had fallen into heaven. There was more improvisation in one song than you often will hear in an entire album. A refined gentlemanly greeting called out softly for the classically mysterious "Laura," while Wayne Shorter
's "Ana Maria" is remembered with elegance and uplifting charm. Cunliffe gliding effortlessly through Colaiuta's epitome of musicality and Patitucci's nuanced and savory grooves. "The One Step" emphatically defies the lack of rehearsal with a truly deft conversation. With such magnificent bookends, Cunliffe was as if a kid in the candy store. He gleefully shined, playing very much in the moment. Appreciating Cunliffe's sincere happiness, Patitucci and Colaiuta too were having fun with it.
Then it was time to swing, and wow did they swing. "7 Steps To Heaven" was empowered with high tempo, and the trio at fever, yet controlled, pitch throughout the Miles Davis juggernaut. The tune also featured Colaiuta's masterful drum solo. This one was sizzling, even by his standards. Catching their collective breath with "Good Morning Heartache," the other side of the emotional curve is expanded. The Billie Holiday
classic is presented with clear lines and brilliant turns. The trio then goes to the movies with the Harold Arlen
and Johny Mercer tune "My Shining Hour." Recorded by many, most notably John Coltrane
, here it is reimagined with clever nuances embedded inside intelligent conversation. Thelonious Monk
's slightly quirky "We See' is also given quite the makeover with Colaiuta and Patitucci augmenting Cunliffe's every note and detail. Closing in style, the trio celebrates the melodic and rhythmic design of Jule Styne's "Just In Time." While maintaining the tune's sweetness, they bring some gait and high spirits to the mix.
The connectivity heard here belies the fact that Cunliffe had never played with Patitucci or Colaiuta in a trio ensemble. Instead it was the freshness and heightened interplay that was very impactful. It was a conversation well overdue. Blue Note, Prestige, and a few other labels used to make records in a day, if not a few hours, back in the 1950s. That lost art of innate chemistry may resurface after this stellar collaboration. There are organic reactions on Trio
that are instinctive, not pre determined. These responses may be gone, or at least sizably altered if rehearsed over and over. Instead they were looking at each other and playfully challenging each other in the moment. Spontaneously was as much at play here as Patitucci, Colaiuta, and Cunliffe.
Conception; Laura; Ana Maria; The One Step; 7 Steps to Heaven; Good Morning Heartache; My Shining Hour; We See; Just in Time.