09 October 2009

A Minor Corrective to the Jazz In Crisis Meme

Jazz fans are passionate to a fault, and us jazz bloggers even more so. In the wake of Terry Teachout's Wall Street Journal piece on the decline of the jazz audience, a whole host of bloggers have picked the piece apart, started a campaign to promote live jazz, and offered suggested albums to recommend to non-jazz listeners, among other responses. While the responses were thoughtful, they also (inadvertently) reveal a sense of defensive panic, as if we bloggers need to prove the vitality of jazz in the 21st century.

But I wish to offer a slightly more optimistic take on the situation. Instead of talking about the audience, I'll follow Patrick Jarenwattananon's lead and instead focus on the music. What is lost in the uproar over the audience is the fact that we are currently living in a golden age of piano trios. Not only are there a bunch of exciting groups putting out fantastic music, but the pantheon of these trios all have such an individual sound that even jazz neophytes can tell them apart. Below are just a few of the trios that are making the present moment such a satisfying one for jazz listeners.

Brad Mehldau Trio: Mehldau has loomed large over the jazz scene for over a decade, and his trio with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard have put out a number of great albums over the last decade. I consider them the standard bearer of this group.

The Bad Plus
: Though we may be tempted to dub them enfants terribles for their deconstructive covers of pop and rock tunes, The Bad Plus are more of a postmodern edition of the traditional jazz piano trio.

Vijay Iyer Trio
: I'll let the rest of the jazz blogosphere do the talking here. I'll be giving their newest album, Historicity, a full review soon, but suffice it to say that it might be the best album of 2009. Iyer, bassist Stephan Crump, and drummer Marcus Gilmore have a fantastic musical rapport.

Keith Jarrett Standards Trio: The reigning master of repertory, along with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette, will consistently knock your socks off with their discursive explorations of standards.

Robert Glasper Trio: Glasper gets a bit more pub for his Experiment band, but the acoustic trio is also a pretty good show.

Jason Moran's Bandwagon: Moran packs the entire history of jazz piano in his playing, but keeps it fresh and exciting. Bassist Tauras Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits match him blow for blow in energy.

Medeski Martin & Wood
: Probably the most sui generis of this list, which is saying something. John Medeski usually sticks to electric instruments, but he is underrated on the acoustic piano.

Did I forget someone? Let me know in the comments...

Image via EyeShotJazz.


DCW said...

Stanley Clarke Trio

Chick Corea's recent series of Trio records.

Bill Ford said...

I would add two other trios to the list:

1. Denny Zeitlin. The recent release of his early work on Columbia by Mosaic and his lastest trio recording on Sunnyside testifies to the consistency of this underrated artist.

2. Bill Charlap Trio.

AndreasR said...

I completely agree that this is a golden age of piano trios and I'm delighted to see the Mehldau trio at the top of the list. I'd like to suggest a few Europeans, if that's within the terms of reference.

1. Enrico Pieranunzi Trio: Pieranunzi has recorded with various bassists and drummers but more often with Marc Johnson (b) and Joey Baron (d) than any other combination, as far as I can tell. Their double CD Live in Japan doesn't disappoint.

2. John Taylor Trio: Taylor and bassist Palle Danielsson made several records for ECM in the 90s under the leadership of Peter Erskine. Under Taylor's name, with drummer Martin France, they've since made two superb albums for CAMjazz. Although I've heard Taylor play solo, I haven't heard the trio play live. I'd give my eye teeth, if I still had them.

3. Marcin Waskilewski Trio: Manfred Eicher's production has sometimes seemed to keep pianists on too tight a leash. I think that's true of Tord Gustavsen (if you compare his live performances with his recorded output) and I'm hoping that it won't turn out to be the case with Stefano Bollani's "Danish" trio. However, Eicher seems to bring out the best in Wasilewski, or at least to fail to suppress it.

Anonymous said...

A few more for consideration:

1. Helge Lien Trio. Norwegian trio that have more than a bit of EST to them. This year's (or on some release dates last year's) Hello Troll is highly recommended.

2. Belgian Jef Neve's trio have released two excellent albums.

3. Steve Kuhn Trio's Coltrane album from this year is also excellent.

4. German Michael Wollny's trio known as [em] have produced three excellent albums. Wollny's various other projects are also worth checking out including his duo album with Joachim Kuhn.

5. A couple of British trios worth looking out for: Geoff Eales Trio - their Master of the Game album is one of my favourites of this year. and Neil Cowley Trio.

6. Stefano Bollani's "Danish" trio of this year is very good and bodes well.

7. And last, but not least, the best band in the world at the moment is The Necks - Australian trio known for their long (typically 60 minutes) improvised pieces.

Anonymous said...

Hi David,
Great blog here. Thanks for giving a photo credit for my Jason Moran photo and a link back to EyeShotJazz. Would appreciate it if you listed http://www.eyeshotjazz.com/ in your blog list.
( As of this week I am moving the blog away from eyeshotjazz.wordpress.com to eyeshotjazz.com. )
Thank you. I have added a link to your blog on it as well.

David said...

Daniel, I've added a link to the sidebar, many thanks.

Thanks to everyone else for the suggestions, I still have a lot of European jazz to get hip to.