Three's Company for Millennium Revival; Peter Bacon Picks His Top Jazz and World CDs of the Year

The Birmingham Post (England), December 22, 2000 | Go to article overview

Three's Company for Millennium Revival; Peter Bacon Picks His Top Jazz and World CDs of the Year


Byline: Peter Bacon

The 20th century may have been the jazz century, with the music stretching out down its 100 years, and there may have been countless warnings of the style's death at the end of it, but if this year's CDs represent the body, it's not going in the ground just yet.

Remarkably, its most lively limb this year has been one out of fashion since the 1960s - the piano trio.

Three of my top five this year are piano/bass/drums bands, one from a middle-aged lion, the others from swiftly maturing cubs.

Keith Jarrett, with his Standards trio partners, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette, recorded Whisper Not (ECM) in concert in Paris last year, and it marks a triumphant return for the pianist devastated in recent years by a debilitating illness.

Pure, energetic jazz rooted in the classics of bebop from the pens of Bud Powell, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk, interpreted with Jarrett's inimitable chord voicings and ability to mix rhythmic excitement with lyrical intensity.

Brad Mehldau, with Larry Grenadier on bass and Jorge Rossy on drums, on Places (Warner Bros) shows he is quickly building as strong a body of work as Bill Evans, though it must be stressed the two have less in common than might have appeared at first.

Like Jarrett he can play marvellously lyrically, but it is the knotty complexity of his two-handed approach that really sets him apart. Often the left hand is taking the lead in improvisation, or setting up a strong counter melody. Technical brilliance, but always in the service of emotional expression.

Places is all original material and evokes memories of the pianist's travels around the world.

And then there's the Esbjorn Svensson Trio, whose Good Morning Susie Soho (ACT) is cropping up on album of the year lists all over the place.

Svensson owes a lot to Jarrett in his use of folk-based melodies and world beats, but steers clear of standards to concentrate on his original tunes.

The bass lines, from Dan Bergland, are catchy, while Magnus Ostrom on drums is just as happy adding some skittering drum 'n' bass grooves as swinging on his ride cymbal.

All three discs are far removed from the old tradition of a pianist in the spotlight with the rhythm team reduced to support players - these are musical equilateral triangles, and all the better for it.

Pianists aside, the star of the year must be trumpeter Dave Douglas, who released two astounding discs in 2000 - Soul On Soul, a tribute to the pianist Mary Lou Williams, and A Thousand Evenings (both RCA), with his 'Charms Of The Night Sky' aggregate.

The latter is a band of four virtuosi with the exotic line-up of trumpet, accordion, violin and bass, and they switch from formal written music to improvised swing at the twitch of an eyebrow. …

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