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Triple-Star Piano Trios: Gordon Beck, Greg Burk & Yaron Herman

Tom Greenland By

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Gordon Beck Trio
Appleby Blues
Art of Life
2007


Greg Burk
Ivy Trio
482 Music
2007


Yaron Herman Trio
A Time for Everything
Laborie
2007


In many ways a piano trio is the ideal setting for jazz interactivity: although the pianist's name usually appears at the top of the marquee, bass and drums share equal "screen" time as co-starring cast members with equally important roles to play. Three-way hookups happen in myriad ways, as evidenced by recent trio recordings from Gordon Beck, Greg Burk and Yaron Herman.

Beck, a 45-year veteran, is the "old lion" of the bunch; Appleby Blues, a well-recorded live set from Cumbria's annual festival, is the fourth of his Art of Life releases and one of his strongest. A straightforward set of standards and compelling originals—including "With a Heart in My Song," a remake of guess what?—Gordon plays with a highly personalized sense of swing, stretching his improvisations out in long-winded (but never hoarse-throated) solos that display depth and intelligence; his solo over the title track, nearly seven minutes, is riff-driven without becoming repetitious. Seasoned drummer Tony Levin borrows (but never steals) the show, constantly interjecting ideas in soloistic fashion even as he holds down the time; his traded fours on "Solar," for example, sound more like overlapping dialogue than discreet soliloquies. Jeremy Brown, talented bassist and the "baby" of the group, plays like there's something musical he's bound to get off his chest, adding youthful enthusiasm that sparks Beck and Levin.

Greg Burk's Ivy Trio is his second effort in this format; in comparison with its predecessor, Nothing, Knowing, which featured Bob Moses and Steve Swallow, Ivy is a gathering of peers, a more casual and comfortable affair recorded in a Harvard University study lounge. With Jonathan Robinson (bass) and Luther Gray (drums), the session as a whole flows with effortless continuity and cohesion, slipping in and out of well-constructed song forms ("Dumbo's Dilemma" and "Hupid Stupid" are standout compositions) and open-ended "free" zones ("Duck and Gulls" opens with scritch-scratching and tick-tocks, gradually building to controlled pandemonium), creating a nice balance of push and pull, ebb and flow. Although half of these tunes received treatment on Nothing, Knowing, here they stand "corrected," a tribute to the creative and collaborative nature of the musicians.

Yaron Herman's trio date, A Time for Everything, bites off—and chews—a sumptuous musical meal. Sounding like a through-composed concept album, Time is an eclectic pastiche of intros and interludes, originals and original reinterpretations, classical and pop, rubatos and heavy beats, electronica and "acoustica." Bassist Matt Brewer and "side"-man/drummer extraordinaire Gerald Cleaver add flavor to this complex sauce, simmering in the same stewpot without completely blending. Highpoints include "Neshima," reminiscent of the tight-knit looseness of Bill Evans' classic trio, and "Wee Small Hours of the Morning," wherein the pianist's hesitantly decisive phrases and ghosted high notes create a trance-like mood. This is fine fare, but who knows what could happen if these same cooks gathered again to "reheat" their concoction?


Tracks & Personnel

Appleby Blues

Tracks: Solar; With A Heart in My Song; For P. J.; This Old Country; Appleby Blues; Gone With the Wind; California Here I Come.

Personnel: Gordon Beck: piano; Jerome Brown: acoustic bass; Tony Levin: drums.

Ivy Trio

Tracks: Look to the Neutrino; Blink to Be; Dumbo's Dilemma; Hupid Stumid; Ducks and Gulls; Operetta; Billie's Bounce.

Personnel: Greg Burk: piano; Jonathan Robinson: bass; Luther Gray: drums.

A Time for Everything

Tracks: Army of Me; Stompin; Layla Layla; Interlude; Toxic; Neshima; Paluszki; Prelude No. 2 in Bb Major, Opus 35; Message in a Bottle; MMM; Monkey Paradise; In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning; El Toro; Hallelujah.

Personnel: Yaron Herman: piano; Matt Brewer: bass; Gerald Cleaver: drums.


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