Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Tom Warrington Trio: Nelson

Jazz Compass Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Nelson

In the world of jazz, the trio format has always been a keystone: Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson and Gene Krupa; Bill Evans, Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian; units headed by Vince Guaraldi, Nat King Cole, Oscar Peterson, Ahmad Jamal, Art Tatum and countless others.

Here’s another top-drawer group, equal to the best of those listed above. This one is headed by bassist, composer and arranger Tom Warrington, and includes guitarist Larry Koonse and drummer Joe La Barbera.

Warrington, who has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for the past 20 years, began his career with Buddy Rich’s Big Band and has played with many past and present jazz icons. Warrington is a first-call studio musician, a participant at jazz festivals worldwide, a faculty member at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and a continuing presence with many of today’s artists.

If I were asked to name the best 10 guitarists working today, Koonse would occupy the top three slots. Taught by his famous guitarist father, Dave, Larry began his recording career at age 15, in a duet release with his dad. Larry was the first recipient of a bachelor of music degree from USC; after graduation, he toured for six years with John Dankworth’s group (which featured Cleo Laine). Koonse’s discography is extensive; since 1977 he has been part of more than 150 recordings. As for talent, his middle name is “tasty.”

La Barbera is the drumming member of his well-known family of musicians. He’s a graduate of the Berklee College of Music, and was a member of the famous Woody Herman Thundering Herd, along with combos fronted by Chuck Mangione, Bill Evans and numerous others.

Warrington, Koonse and La Barbera also are firmly associated with name vocalists. Warrington has worked with Peggy Lee; Koonse with Cleo Laine, Mel Torme, Linda Ronstadt, Natalie Cole and Karin Allyson; and La Barbera Tony Bennett. That’s significant; vocalists select musicians who will augment their performances.

Nelson is dedicated to a tiny cat that showed up one day and, after nine years, just disappeared. The album features original tunes by each member of the trio. Warrington contributed “Nelson,” “Buffalo Chips” and “Not If But When”; Koonse delivered “Shall We,” “Star Jasmine” and “Rachel & Sarah”; and La Barbera wrote “If Not for You” and “Sixth Sense.” The final tune, “Bolivia,” comes from Cedar Walton.

This is the best album I’ve reviewed in months; everything is thoughtful, pensive and, for lack of a better term beautiful. It’s a jazz listener’s delight.

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