Thursday, April 5, 2007

Trio East: Best Bets

Origin Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 4.5.07
Buy CD: Best Bets

Back in the days of the big bands, most musicians barely finished high school before they began to play professionally. As time passed and those bands disappeared, many musicians retired or simply disappeared. 

Some of the best found jobs with studio bands that supported the movie and TV industries, and a relatively few found small groups that continued to perform in jazz clubs and lounges. I can't think of any who went back to school, although some did become teachers. 

Things have changed. 

Many of today's jazz-bent musicians enter colleges immediately after high school, and obtain degrees in their chosen field. Some are good enough to be offered teaching jobs at these colleges; many of those individuals form — or join — jazz groups and play professionally in their spare time. 

Such is the case with the members of Trio East: All are graduates and teachers at New Jersey's Eastman School of Music. Trumpeter Clay Jenkins, the group elder, did play with a number of the great bands — Stan Kenton, Buddy Rich and Count Basie — before going back to school, and he continues to play with the Clayton/Hamilton orchestra. 

The other two (younger) members of this trio, bassist Jeff Campbell and drummer Rich Thompson, also have played with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Diana Krall and Marian McPartland. 

All three are excellent musicians who, by virtue of their close association at Eastman, think and play as one. 

When listening to this group, you'll immediately realize that advanced learning has had a considerable impact on their jazz style. Five of these nine tracks are originals written by one of the trio members; the remaining tunes are standards (Ellington's "I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart," John Abercrombie's "Sweet Sixteen," Arthur Hamilton's "Cry Me A River" and John Coltrane's "Bass Blues"). 

The melodies and tempos of the latter are recognizable and danceable. Such is not the case with the originals; they're much more modern, with tempo changes, simultaneous — and different — melodic lines, and dissonances that may turn some listeners off. 

The excellence of these musicians is unquestionable, but unless you enjoy advanced jazz, this release may not be for you.

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