Ten life-changing jazz piano trio recordings

From Bud Powell in the early 1950s to Michael Wollny in 2013, via Ahmad Jamal, Duke Ellington, Brad Mehldau and The Bad Plus, these are all outstanding jazz piano trio recordings, a perfect selection for someone discovering jazz for the first time or for the collector looking for something fresh...

Bud PowellBud Powell

The Genius of Bud Powell

Clef/Verve

Powell (p), Ray Brown (b) and Buddy Rich (d). Rec. 1950-51

Two Herculean trio tunes – ‘Tea For Two’ and ‘Hallelujah’, both taken at breakneck speeds – make up the 1950 contribution here. With the benefit of extra CD space we get treated to two extra takes of ‘Tea For Two’, giving us an object lesson in how Powell developed his material as well as maintaining his incredible improvisational creativity. The level of invention Powell achieves puts this recital on equal par with anything in the recorded annals of jazz piano and makes it basic required jazz listening. (KS)

 

Ahmad JamalAhmad Jamal

But Not For Me – At The Pershing

Argo

Jamal (p), Israel Crosby (b), Vernell Fournier (d). Rec. 1958

Jamal’s ideas about integrated and disciplined trio interplay had already deeply influenced jazz’s inner circle of musicians while his piano-guitar-bass trio was around throughout the early 1950s. However, things went supernova-ish when this incredible unit made and released this jazz best-seller in 1958. That it was no flash in the pan is shown by the music’s drawing power and continuing fascination today, as well as its ability to influence every new generation of pianists. (KS)

 

Bill Evans Sunday at the Village VanguardBill Evans Trio

Sunday At The Village Vanguard

Riverside

Evans (p), Scott LaFaro (b) and Paul Motian (d). Rec. 1961

Equal partners, this trio sustained a musical dialogue on selection after selection that has rarely been equalled within the earshot of a professional microphone, with the astonishingly inventive LaFaro perhaps meriting the sobriquet of senior partner at times, so dominant can he be. This is hardly to downgrade Evans’ own contributions, all of which retain their depth and freshness today. (KS)

 

Oscar Peterson Night TrainOscar Peterson

Night Train

Verve

Oscar Peterson (p), Ray Brown b) and Ed Thigpen (d). Rec. 1962

By 1962 Peterson’s trio was one of the top draws in jazz worldwide and Peterson himself habitually won every jazz piano popularity poll going. Why? Well, the change in 1958 from piano-bass-guitar to piano-bass-drums had allowed him room to develop the group’s leaner, grittier side and emphasise melody rather than bullish pyrotechnics. Night Train is the epitome of this approach, it hangs together as a perfect modernist tribute to the funky roots of jazz, covering tracks from ‘C Jam Blues’ to ‘Moten Swing’ and ‘The Hucklebuck’. (KS)

 

Duke Ellington Money JungleEllington/Mingus/Roach

Money Jungle

United Artists Records

Duke Ellington (p), Charles Mingus (b) and Max Roach (d). Rec. 17 September 1962 

This trio session is constantly challenging yet communal, and its piano contribution both sentimental and stimulating. The interplay is even more extraordinary than on his Coltrane collaboration – done the following week! – and the 63-year-old Ellington plays over his head. (BP)

 

 

Brad Mehldau Art of Trio Vol 3Brad Mehldau

Art Of The Trio Vol.3

Warner

Brad Mehldau (p), Larry Grenadier (b) and Jorge Rossy (d). Rec. 1998

More so than his previous albums, this was the one that put Mehldau on the map, as much for a version of ‘Exit Music (For A Film)’ that turned Radiohead into Beethoven as his deeply haunting version of Nick Drake’s ‘River Man’ that hipped a legion of young jazzers to two fresh new sources of repertoire. Here Mehldau’s improvisations appear as variations upon variations upon variations, remote from their source maybe but entirely personal. (SN)

 

EST From Gagarin's Point of ViewEsbjörn Svensson Trio

From Gagarin’s Point Of View

ACT

Esbjörn Svensson (p), Dan Berglund (b) and Magnus Öström (d). Rec. 1999

It was not as if the Esbjörn Svensson Trio came out of nowhere. They’d been around since 1991 refining a distinctive collective voice that prompted a name change to EST. It took the UK, who habitually look to the USA for its jazz heroes, longer than most European countries to come under their spell, but this is the album that did it. Their attachment to deeply felt melody, unhurried intensity, framed with the Nordic Tone, and the comparatively unconventional, pop-like structures of their compositions endeared them to jazz and non-jazz fans alike, in the honest humanity of their playing. (SN)

 

The Bad Plus These Are VistasThe Bad Plus

These Are The Vistas

Columbia

Ethan Iverson (p), Reid Anderson (b) and Dave King (d). Rec. 2003

Very few jazz groups today set out to mess with your head. You know, get inside there, push the furniture over, chuck things out of the window and generally make a nuisance of themselves. That’s what’s so refreshing about the Bad Plus. They barge in, do things a jazz piano trio isn’t supposed to do, such as play Blondie’s ‘Heart of Glass’ or Kurt Cobain’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’ They give you a musical experience you won’t forget easily. (SN) 

 

Phronesis AlivePhronesis

Alive

Edition 

Ivo Neame (p), Jasper Høiby (b), Mark Guiliana (d). Rec. 2010

Live recordings are usually unmanageable in many ways but this one has been put together with a lot of TLC, meaning attention to detail in every area. It has paid healthy dividends, with a live sonic that reflects the band’s ability to join together intimacy and energy, the tender and animalistic. Alive is about as exciting as it can get without actually seeing this band live and in the flesh. (SH)

 

Michael Wollny Trio WeltentraumMichael Wollny Trio

Weltentraum

ACT

Michael Wollny (p, harpsichord), Tim Lefebvre (b), Eric Schaefer (d) plus Theo Bleckmann (v, one track). Rec. 24 and 25 September 2013 and 21 March 2013

Weltentraum – rough translation, ‘we search the dreamworlds’ – is an album of standards, but not your usual standards, these are pieces by the likes of Alban Berg, Gustav Mahler, Paul Hindemith, Edgard Varese, Wolfgang Rihm, Friedrich Nietzsche and Guillaume de Mauchaut which are morphed into intense, personal statements by Wollny that are revealing of his artistic growth, musical curiosity and growing stature as an artist.  (SN)

Discover...

Feature Top 20 Jazz Albums of the Last Five Years

Feature Phronesis – Above and Beyond

Feature EST – Three Falling Three

 

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