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Barring notable exceptions, a dynamic rhythm section is the bedrock of all successful jazz ensembles. There's no inviolate rule for crafting that foundation: Three new releases with pianists at the helm demonstrate how vital and yet varied the piano-bass/drum alliance can be.
Pianist/composer Aaron Goldberg's Worlds posits that jazz, spawned by cultural diversity, communicates most effectively the possibility of global understanding. Goldberg's trio might be an emissary of such understanding the original compositions and the performances are persuasive enough. The trio displays not only technical facility but a reassuring intra-group sensitivity that disarms the listener. In his original tunes ("Unstablemates , for example) Goldberg alludes to the jazz masters but then departs, urging the listener to join him in the friendly exploration of uncharted musical territory. Bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland join Goldberg, with guest appearances by Brazilian vocalist Luciana Souza and guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel. In addition to seven original compositions, Goldberg interprets three Brazilian tunes by Djavan and Antonio Carlos Jobim.
Jazz bebop vet Jon Mayer and company seem to resonate personally with the material on Mayer's latest album, My Romance. A study of ten songs from the American Songbook not usually performed in a bebop trio format, the CD recalls some bygone-but-beautiful melodies of Broadway and Tin Pan Alley. The thematic through-line is love good, bad and indifferent. The trio is anything but indifferent, however. Pianist Mayer coaxes subtle feeling out of the keyboard; bassist Rufus Reid's rhythmic commitment never wavers; drummer Dick Berk proffers an assured bebop footing. The group tackles such standards as "I Have Dreamed and "Be My Love all well known as vocal show-stoppers without once slipping into sentimentality, revealing the solid compositional structures the composers (Richard Rodgers and Sammy Cahn/Nicholas Brodsky, respectively) originally designed.
Until it closed in the late '90s, pianist Kirk Lightsey frequently played at Bradley's, a piano bar in Greenwich Village. Bradley's became a meeting place for the city's jazz performers and, as such, the tavern-like environment fostered many a significant artistic collaboration. One such collaboration: Kirk Lightsey with Rufus Reid on bass in January 1985, captured on tape (and now CD). On The Nights of Bradley's Lightsey offers spot-on renditions of the bebop classics "Speak No Evil , "Giant Steps and "Oleo , for example, on an almost-out-of-tune piano. In the background, silverware clinks and the crowd murmurs (maybe it's Art Blakey chatting with Chet Baker). Listening to the live recording, it's almost like being one of the fortunate who sat within elbow-distance of this electrifying duo.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Lambada de Serpente; Taurus; Kianda's Song; Unstablemates; Modinha; Salvador; OAM's Blues; Inutil Paisagem; Oud to Omer; Between Worlds.
Personnel: Aaron Goldberg: piano; Reuben Rogers: bass; Eric Hardland: drums; Luciana Souza: vocals; Kurt Rosenwinkel: guitar.
Tracks: Dream Dancing; Yours Is My Heart Alone; I Have Dreamed; But Beautiful; Be My Love; I'm Gonna Laugh You Out Of My Life; Yesterdays; My Romance; If You Never Come To Me; Everything I Love.
Personnel: Jon Mayer: piano; Rufus Reid: bass; Dick Berk: drums.
The Nights of Bradley's
Tracks: I Told You So; Speak No Evil; A Time For Love; Giant Steps; From Dream To Dream; In Your Own Sweet Way; Oleo.