In the process of interpreting the compositions of modern jazzmen ranging from Mingus to Hubbard to Shorter, pianist John Campbell embraces the talents of bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Billy Drummond in something akin to an equal partnership. All three are veterans with an abundance of experience in the bands of established leaders. Throughout the record each musician’s capital technique is harnessed in order to create a fluid trio sound which, in keeping with the variety of the material, changes direction and emphasis on every cut, yet firmly remains within the wide parameters of the jazz mainstream.
Reminiscent of Ben Riley’s crisp drumming in Thelonious Monk’s mid-sixties quartet, Drummond’s fat, four bar break marks the beginning of the disc’s opening cut, Monk’s composition “Four In One.” Campbell executes the tune’s rush of notes, pauses, and blithe dissonance with ease, beginning his solo with Anderson temporarily holding things in check by playing mostly on beats one and three. The pianist exercises similar restraint, sacrificing flow in favor of playing unusual combinations that nonetheless swing assertively, then moves into high gear on the second chorus with a more conventional but equally effective approach. Anderson’s two choruses rely on Drummond’s subtly stated pulse, as the bassist precariously crosses bar lines and goes in and out of time, always maintaining a current of logically connected ideas. In trading eights with Campbell, Drummond’s work borders on the conceptual, implying conventional cadences, skipping around the beat, until the last exchange in which he once again serves up a snare and bass drum combination that stays right in the pocket.
Anderson and Campbell share the melody of Charles Mingus’ “Duke Ellington’s Sound Of Love,” a ballad taken at an elegantly slow tempo. The bassist’s solo shows off his woody tone to fine effect, and with Campbell’s measured comping plus the wisp of Drummond’s brushes in the background, he plays with invention, allowing individual notes to reverberate and frequently incorporating silence. When Campbell enters in a low-keyed manner, Anderson gently nudges him, and the pianist’s quiet, ruminative phrases deepen, increasing in energy and volume.
Chick Corea’s fractured composition, “Steps,” provides the means for the trio’s excellent, up-tempo workout. Amidst the metallic ping of Drummond’s ride cymbal and Anderson’s furious walking, Campbell plunges right into his solo, producing nicely balanced lines that, while connected by terse, left-handed chords, always seem cut short, generating a sense of agitation without sounding disjointed.
The slap of Drummond’s brushes on the snare drum and (in the middle of Campbell’s solo) his switch to sticks creates a palpable tension during the Red Mitchell’s “Wonderful.” Campbell plays the waltz with equal parts of grace and brio. Inspired by the drummer’s accents, his solo pointedly drives forward, making his touch sound thicker and more resonant as he progresses. Anderson takes a satisfying, rhythmically flexible turn, and then the pianist exchanges eights with Drummond, who once again produces a series of neatly executed, circuitous figures, all of which are quite different from one another.
The disc concludes with Campbell’s solo rendition of the ballad “I Waited For You.” With his left hand maintaining a steady yet ethereal pulse, he states the melody tenderly and continues in this vein, while an occasional blues-oriented note or phrase provides a brief digression in the course of the improvisation.