Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Poetry of the Jazz Trio

What distinguishes jazz from all or almost all other music genres is its poetic dimension.  I mean "poetic" in the modern sense: a form of communication that says as much by what it doesn't say as by what it does, and that condenses whole volumes of thought and experience into a few subtle hints.  I recall a very early poem by e. e. cummings: 
Oh, the pretty birdy, O,
with his little toe, toe, toe!
You can imagine that toe, toe, toe, being tapped out on a piano.  Cummings wrote that when he was three years old.  O!  

Almost all jazz does that same trick.  We don't know what kind of bird it is, or how big it is, or what color it is.  But we can get the movement of the three claws and the impression that it makes on the child's imagination.  

Here is an example of what I am talking about.  
Abdullah Ibrahim/Duke 88/Yarona
There's not much of the bird in that.  But you have the whole bird nonetheless, and you appreciate what you have.  Of course, the undisputed master of the jazz trio was Bill Evans.  Evans was better than any other jazz man I have listened to at mastering subtly.  He is always engaged in a duet with silence, and the silence says as much as he says.  Here is a taste:
Bill Evans/Blue in Green/The Complete Riverside Recordings
 The closest thing to that kind of poetry in more recent jazz, perhaps, is the work of Brad Mehldau on his marvelous "Art of the Trio" albums.  Here is Mehldau's little birdy poem. 
Brad Mehldau/Black Bird/The Art of the Trio 1
If you are trying to build a decent jazz collection, get Yarona, and all four of Mehldau's Art of the Trio albums.  Aim for everything by Bill Evans.  And drop me a line. 

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