Scott Routenberg Trio - Supermoon

Label: Summit Records, 2018

Personnel - Scott Routenberg: piano; Nick Tucker: acoustic bass; Cassius Goens III: drums.

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Supermoon, the second outing of the trio led by under-the-radar pianist Scott Routenberg, is the follow up to last year’s Every End Is A Beginning. As happened in the previous CD, the new work released on Summit Records, is exclusively composed of originals and features Nick Tucker on acoustic bass and Cassius Goens III on drums.

Routenberg, who was not averse to genre explorations in an initial phase of his career (Jazztronicus), provides us with a fine collection of jazz songs inspired by his two sons, Julian and Florian.

Opening the program is the title track, which dissipates all types of positive energy. The tune was written for Florian, who was born on the evening of the supermoon, and conveys the liveliness of a child in the form of a colorful rock-based song with boiling drum fills, grooving bass lines, as well as a burning piano ride.

Things start graciously feathery on “Everything Is Alive”. Still, the rhythmic and harmonic textures stiffen up for Routenberg’s eloquent solo, eventually returning to the initial quasi-classical docility.

Florian’s obsession with trains is illustrated on “Locomotivity”, an uptempo burner in six with a subtle Latin feel and boppish motifs to be enjoyed. This one was co-written by Routenberg and his wife Sofia Kraevska.

Both “Quiet Times”, a melodious reflection requiring cohesive interplay, and the closing “Little Song”, a tranquil ballad in which the trio finds room to breathe, have soft, warm-hearted natures, in opposition to the playful “Bebop Baby”, whose swinging verve is pelted with Bird-inspired lines and a rhythmic bounce similar to Benny Green. Tucker also enchants while discoursing in sympathy with Gershwin’s classic rhythm changes.

Supermoon is a product of Routenberg’s parental and musical inspirations, but also a work of unified expression from a charismatic trio that shows enough attributes to provide us with substantial moments of gratification.

Grade  B

Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Supermoon ► 02 - Everything Is Alive ► 08 - Quiet Time


Tord Gustavsen Trio - The Other Side

Label: ECM Records, 2018

Personnel - Tord Gustavsen: piano; Sigurd Hole: acoustic bass; Jarle Vespestad: drums.

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Generating deeply moving sounds through a close interplay, the Tord Gustavsen Trio, inactive since 2007, takes us to The Other Side with staggering new originals and admirable renditions of traditional songs and classical pieces, including three by J.S. Bach. The Norwegian pianist and composer plays alongside his longtime drummer Jarle Vespestad and the new bassist Sigurd Hole, two excellent accompanists who provide him with all the rhythmic sustenance and enchanting texture he needs to make this one of the most gratifying releases of his career.

The opening title, “The Tunnel”, shows Gustavsen and his partners plunging into tranquil, limpid waters that reflect their ability to create beautiful, intimate moods with a ample musical spaciousness. The graceful pianism stresses the poignant primacy of the melody while the autonomous pulse emphasizes it even more.

The piece that follows, “Kirken, Den Er Et Gammelt Hus”, was penned by the 19th-century Norwegian composer Ludvig Mathias Lindeman and comes to life through a radiant bass intro. It maintains a haunting sophistication in sound as the folk intonations increase. The melodies, true poetic declamations, have a remarkably soothing effect, soaring on top of an undeviating pulse that never ceases to underline diligence, unity, and generosity.

If “Re-Melt” is a sensitive 3/4 composition with a few occasional Jarrett-esque rhythmic accents, then, I would call “Duality”, a pure, free, and minimalist improvised meditation where scattered tom-tom initiatives, gliding bow work, and profound melodic inspirations carve out abundant room for us to picture immeasurable, resplendent landscapes.

The influence of classical music is unconcealed on tunes like the traditional “Ingen Vinner Frem Til Den Evige R”, a parade of deep-toned textures that make up a mournful love song; “Taste and See”, which I can imagine being sung by Sting with the same expressionism of “My One and Only Love”; and the soft-as-a-whisper “Jesu Meine Freude - Jesus, Det En”, where the interpretation of a chorale by Bach splices with a traditional song, falling in between the liturgical and the nocturnal. 

The downbeat yet fluent “O Traurigkeit” is another Bach’s hymn, which, despite taciturn in tone, is rich in emotion and solid in texture. It’s a good example on how the trio puts delicate fragility and tensile creativity in the same context.

Returning to a slow triple meter, they dig the sedate title track with the habitual curvy lines that characterize Gustavsen’s music, but it is on the introspective “Curves” that they get closer to perfection. This is a magnificent illustration of an extramundane world filled with bliss, tenderness, and sensitivity.

There are no extravagances but plenty of utterly beautiful moments that take you to another dimension. The record is soulful and inspired, and Gustavsen and his bandmates are all refined musical taste, originality, and perception.

        Grade  A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - The Tunnel ► 02 - Kirken, Den Er Et Gammelt Hus ► 12 – Curves


Brad Mehldau Trio - Seymour Reads the Constitution!

Label: Nonesuch Records, 2018

Personnel - Brad Mehldau: piano; Larry Grenadier: acoustic bass; Jeff Ballard: drums.

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Brad Mehldau, one of the most influential pianists of our times, is all imagination and sophistication when it comes to composition and execution. After assembling readings of preludes by Bach and his own originals on the solo work After Bach (Nonesuch, 2018), he returns to the trio format, accompanied by longtime associates Larry Grenadier and Jeff Ballard on bass and drums, respectively.

The new album, Seymour Reads the Constitution!, got its title from a weird dream with the actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman, two weeks before his death. In addition to three originals, the album features renditions of meaningful post-bop pieces, pop songs, and a jazz standard.

Two originals are at the top of the song lineup. Whereas the odd-metered “Spiral” relies on a dazzling rhythm, a beautifully poignant melody reminiscent of Jobim, and a consistent post-bop stream of elegant sequential voicings, the title track is a classical-tinged waltz propelled by Ballard’s distinctive brushwork and stamped with refined piano phrases gently pronounced in unison with the bass. Mehldau compellingly flies in his solo, subtly pervading passage notes with warmth and richness, while Grenadier’s exploration becomes a source of inspiration such is the expressiveness revealed.

Swinging with gusto, the trio shapes “Like Someone in Love” with a different tempo and artistic refinement. Liveliness and elasticity conduct the drummer to enthusiastically trade bars with his bandmates. He repeats the procedure on Sam Rivers’ “Beatrice”, where notes are tossed with zest and lush chord changes take place on top of Grenadier’s dancing patterns. He even quotes “Acknowledgement” by Coltrane at some point. 

Elmo Hope’s “De-Dah” is tackled with a cool touch and flows at a moderate pace with bebop stimulus. One finds the pianist in evidence again with improvised lines that go around the melody, deepened by cracking motifs in a fluent conversational tone. The melodicism mirrors his purest musical sensitivity. Following the bandleader’s example, bassist and drummer, besides utterly supportive of each other in guaranteeing a classy foundation, also explore swirls of emotion through the appeal of spontaneity.

Mehldau has a knack for giving pop songs a unique emotional touch. For this album, the chosen ones were Beach Boys’ “Friends” and Paul McCartney’s “Great Day”. The former was transformed into an amiable jazz waltz (the original version also obeys a 3/4 time signature) with an inventive final section while the latter feels like a lively percussive triumph with a bluesy feel. Placed in the middle of these compositions, “Ten Tune” falls in the third stream genre and comes cleverly arranged with melodic counterpoint.

Mehldau Trio demonstrates a firm grasp across styles, engulfing the listeners in their glistening, warm-hearted storytelling and transporting them into another realm. This is among the most enchanting offerings of his career.

        Grade  A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Spiral ► 04 - De-Dah ► 05 - Friends


Kevin Sun - Trio

Label: Endectomorph Music

Lineup – Kevin Sun: tenor and C-melody saxophones; Walter Stinson: acoustic bass; Matt Honor: drums.

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Brooklyn-based saxophonist Kevin Sun, a graduate from Harvard College and New England Conservatory, has been playing in bands such as Earprint, Mute, and Great On Paper. In order to definitely cement his status as a bandleader, he assembled his own trio, featuring Walter Stinson on bass and Matt Honor on drums. The album Trio, released on the saxophonist’s label Endectomorph Music, allows him to explore textures and dynamics with freedom while merging the contemporary and the tradition in a tasteful way. 

Carrying harmonic fragments from Parker’s “Confirmation” and boasting an airy tone that resembles Lester Young, “Transaccidentation” starts off nice and easy with a dreamlike mannerism that includes lost-in-thought saxophone lines, steady drumming, and a bass pedal that soon disintegrates to pulsate with movement. The tune is played at a 15/8 tempo and brings a gravitational sense attached, even when the trio increases the robustness of their moves. Furthermore, we have intelligible, expressive, and not infrequently playful improvisations by the threesome.

Flying with avant-garde intricacy, “Three Ravens” is a hard-swinging slice of Steve Lacy-esque free-ish bop. Gorgeously displaying motivic phrases that go up and down within the main statement, Sun dives headfirst in a stirring improvisation until Honor grabs his way. After the re-establishment of the theme, the piece acquires an enthusiastic Latin pulse that I wished it would have run for a longer period of time.

The completely improvised “One Never Knows Now” booms with several horn timbres, humming arco playing, propulsive drum rolls, as well as percussive rattles and clangs. Deeply connected with this piece, “Does One Now Does One Now Does” is its logic continuation, showcasing Sun’s electrifying multiphonics and other extended techniques on top of well-anchored bass grooves. Yet, the trio awakes further tonal instincts within the dark chamber atmosphere of “Misanthrope”, where bowed bass abrasions combine with saxophone tonalities that brought Tony Malaby to mind. The energy steps up considerably whenever Honor is active.

Operating across a rock platform, “Find Your Pose” sounds close to Chris Speed Trio, while “Announcements” sparks with cymbal splashes and a frantic improvisational language that immediately takes us to Steve Lehman. They differ from “Bittergreen”, which, emerging as a reharmonization of “Sweet Georgia Brown”, flows with a velvety tone while finding plenty of room to breathe. The rendition of “All of Me”, melodically delineated by Sun’s C-melody saxophone, is the one that feels a bit out of context due to its more purist, swinging treatment.

I have no doubt that Sun’s musical integrity will bring him wide recognition. Trio proves him a high flyer whose presence is voluminous and a gifted saxophonist who feels comfortable in a variety of musical contexts. 

       Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Transaccidentation ► 03 - Three Ravens ► 05 - Does One Now Does One Now Does 


Sylvie Courvoisier Trio - D'Agala

Label: Intakt Records, 2018

Lineup - Sylvie Courvoisier: piano; Drew Dress: double bass; Kenny Wollesen: drums and percussion.

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Swiss-born, Brooklyn-based Sylvie Courvoisier is an outstanding pianist whose style falls under the avant-garde and free improvisation. She recurrently performs in duo and trio formats with names such as Mark Feldman, Ikue Mori, Evan Parker, Erik Friedlander, Nate Wooley, and more recently Mary Halvorson. 
On D’Agala, her eleventh record for Intakt, Courvoisier dedicates the nine originals to people (musicians or not) she admires and was influenced by. Her textures find sustenance in the effortless rhythmic work delivered by two long-time associates, bassist Drew Dress and drummer Kenny Wollesen. The trio had already teamed up before on the pianist’s Double Windsor (Tzadik, 2014).

Imprint Double" (For Antoine Courvoisier), a piece with an irresistibly galloping pulsation that allures and transfixes, was love at first listen. The work of the pianist is remarkable, not only on the lower register, from where the main rhythmic force arrives, but also while designing the main statement with scientific precision. After the stimulating ecstasy of the first minutes, the trio embarks on a meditative journey that includes a bass solo over demure ambiances coordinated by the bandleader. Comfortably striding the keyboard from end to end, she adorns with dreamy classical progressions, occasional atonal scintillations, and subtle crescendos, before repossessing that initial throbbing cadence.

An unfettered funky groove laid down by the bassist and corroborated by the drummer establishes the foundation of “Bourgeois’s Spider" (For Louise Bourgeois). Here, Courvoisier goes for more sound exploration, employing prepared piano and string piano techniques. Sometimes massive and turbulent, the tune feels energetically compressed, never eschewing the groove, but fluctuating between the explosive, the tense, and the untroubled.

The vivid “Éclats for Ornette" (For Ornette Coleman) is a worthy stretch fueled by intricate melodies over a swinging flow, frequently interrupted by aesthetic rhythmic accentuations. Following the pianist, who delivers an infectious marriage of angularity and exuberance, Wollesen makes his refined chops shining.

Pierino Porcospino" (For Charlie) and “D’Agala" (for Geri Allen) have nothing but a bass solo in common. While the former is an extrovert hectic dance, the latter was penned with mournful introspection, having Wollesen’s subdued rattlings and creaks running in the background. 

Fly Whisk" (For Irene Schweizer) starts off with widely sparse phrases uttered timidly on the piano. They are the beginning of a story that also leans on shimmering brushes and hummed arco bass to compose the whole. As the time advances, the pianist rushes her narrative by intensifying the conversational flow, while the bassist veers to a restless pizzicato with occasional pedal sustains, having the encouragement of several sly twists put up by the drummer. 

The trio warmed my heart with “South Side Rules" (For John Abercrombie), where Gress shows off a sterling control of his instrument through incisive, full-bodied plucks that have in Wollesen’s tasteful cymbal work a faithful ally. On one hand, Courvoisier infuses some obscurity with low-pitched strikes enforced by her left hand, but illuminates on the other, as intriguing harmonies and clear-sighted melodic lines are appended. Driven by true emotion, this piece exudes sadness, yearning, and exultation. 

D’Agala maintains a strong bite throughout and comes dressed with ingratiating sonorities that are a joy to explore. Much more can be said about it, but the best thing to do is to let the music spin, so it can speak for itself.

        Grade  A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks: 
01 - Imprint Double ► 03 - Éclats for Ornette ► 09 - South Side Rules