High Two Recording HT001

Home Safely
Favorite 01

Instrumental fashions come and go, but one of the most consistent jazz combo configurations is the piano trio. As long as the three sides of the triangle are properly balanced, despite its maturity, it’s still possible to create outstanding sessions. Both these CDs confirm the equation to a greater or lesser extent. Neither could be confused for the other however.

Put simply, EXPANSION is an event — the first CD by pianist Dave Burrell for an American label since 1966 — and a masterful addition to his slim catalogue. Not for nothing is the band called the Full-Blown Trio either. William Parker is on bass and Andrew Cyrille on drums.

More conventional, HOME SAFELY was actually recorded in 1994, but not released until now. It showcases 12 compositions by American expatriate pianist Curtis Clark — who has lived on-and-off in Amsterdam since the late 1970s — aided by one of the Netherlands top rhythm teams: bassist Ernst Glerum and drummer Han Bennink, who perform a similar function for the ICP Orchestra.

Although born in 1940, and a fixture on the Free Jazz scene since the mid-1960s, Burrell is a far different breed of cat than Cecil Taylor, as the bassist and drummer, who played with Taylor in different epochs could easily tell you. Although Burrell made his reputation playing with fire-breathing saxists like Noah Howard, Archie Shepp and David Murray he was always known as a song man. As long ago as the 1970s he was playing his own versions of ragtime and swing. Burrell, who wrote all the tunes but one here, is a consolidator who weaves musical strands together to make his points. You can hear this as early as the first and title tune.

Beginning with the sounds of straightforward bebop, the composition soon splinters into a Ragtime section, complete with broken chords and percussive pedal work, creating a high-gloss pumping piano line. This glimpse is intensified on “They Say It’s Wonderful”, Burrell’s solo version of the Irving Berlin classic. At times it’s almost as if Willie “The Lion” Smith is working out a stride version of the melody featuring a perambulating walking bass. Burrell’s left hand provides the rhythmic variations as the right hand plays the melody. Working his way through impressionistic note clusters, he reorients the song outwards and ends with flourishes and a Basie-like plink.

“About Face” showcases Cyrille’s marching-band beat that breaks up into rolls and bounces. Continuing the martial theme, Parker adds a woody thump and the pianist goes from key clipping and offbeat runs to studding the tempo and producing a contrapuntal comment at the same time. Another militaristic reference, “Coup d’Etat” featuring jumping freebop keyboard cadenzas, as the drummer taps out the same sort of shuffle he would have given Junior Mance. Finally the piece opens up into a two-handed flourish of impressionistic patterning.

“In the Balance”, with Parker on African kora, is calmer, with the bassist producing finger-picked glissandi to match Burrell’s higher pitched, legato arpeggios. The drummer is barely heard, however. He’s not present at all on “Cryin’ Out Loud”, where the bassman’s whimpering bowed notes from his upper partials move the mood from melancholy to produce a threnody. Parker’s bee-buzzing arco presages an oppressive countermotif from the pianist, who methodically works his way down the scale to the bottom.

If Burrell was part of the re-imagining of the piano starting in the 1960s, Clark, born in 1950 and raised in Los Angeles, doesn’t see anything wrong with the conventional piano trio set up. Interestingly enough, he too recorded a couple of CDs with Murray, who he knows through fellow Angelo, cornetist Butch Morris.

Unlike those two and everyone on Burrell’s CD, Clark is content to play by the rules. All his tunes have a definite beginning, middle and end, and there are times where its too obvious exactly what’s going to fall where.

At the same time there’s still plenty of life in those forms, as he demonstrates on “Another Blues”, “Sean” and his best-known composition, “A Letter To South Africa”.

Unrolling with atmospheric, late night jazz club expansiveness, the first is perfectly paced all the way up to the turnaround. Clark performs as if he’s a combination of Bill Evans and Red Garland with tingling arpeggios falling from his fingers. Meanwhile Glerum take a stolid solo that could have come from Ron Carter.

“Sean”, on the other hand, is built on a moving ostinato, making it resemble a cop show theme. Swinging from the get go, it features Bennink leaning into the backbeat and Glerum hitting a groove that threatens to accelerate from walking to slapping. The most modernistic touches come when the pianist plays a high intensity countermotif.

“South Africa” was first recorded in 1987 with Glerum, pioneering New Thinger John Tchicai on tenor saxophone, Dutch cellist Ernst Reijseger and South African-in-exile Louis Moholo on drums. Perhaps to point out its classic status — or to compensate for the missing cello — it’s really the only time Glerum takes an extended arco solo. With the pianist contributing tinkling arpeggios and a modal McCoy-Tyner-meets-Kirk Lightsey tones, the three give it an almost pop song lilt.

Clark’s versatility serves him well in other situations. On “Duped”, another deep- dish, but obviously nightclub-style blues, he creates the sort of descending runs you would expect more from a country bluesman like Otis Spann than a citified Mance. A finger-popper featuring repeated note clusters and sneaky jumps over the keyboard, it shows off Glerum again as he keeps lagging the beat without breaking his time-keeping role. Other times Clark’s pianisms suggest Oscar Peterson, Herbie Nichols and Bud Powell.

Those familiar with the Dutch scene will wonder how well the usually boisterous Bennink is kept under wraps. Sticking mostly to brushes he complements Clark rather than deploying the anarchistic percussion bombs he often lobs at other pianists. Bass drum thumps and ratamacues are kept to a minimum, as are his usual output cymbal lashes and rim shots. Only on “Spooky Conversations” does he indulge in a few breaks characterized by hearty swinging paradiddles and bounces that almost knock the skin off the drum tops. But this is excessively polite for Bennink.

Should piano trio jazz be your thing, than the Clark three will no doubt interest you. But if you’re yearning for a superior example of a master’s art seek out EXPANSION as quickly as possible.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Expansion: 1. Expansion 2. Double Heartbeat 3. Cryin’ Out Loud 4. They Say It’s Wonderful 5. About Face 6. In the Balance* 7. Coup d’Etat

Personnel: Expansion: Dave Burrell (piano); William Parker (bass and kora*); Andrew Cyrille (drums)

Track Listing: Home: 1. Home Safely (& Peacefully) 2. Miss T 3. Ballad of Jake Spoon 4. Espace Theatral 5. Another Blues 6. Sean 7. Sophia 8. Duped 9. Spooky Conversations 10. Scratched 11. Marseille 12. Letter to South Africa

Personnel: Home: Curtis Clark (piano); Ernst Glerum (bass); Han Bennink (drums)