Tuesday, December 17, 2019

In the affirmative: The Yes! Trio delivers 'Groove du Jour'

CD cover: Avital (from left), Jackson, and Goldberg
The exclamation point in this piano trio's name carries a lot of weight. The assertion of the right to swing without  apology or compromise is basic to the ensemble concept that pianist Aaron Goldberg, bassist Omer Avital, and drummer Ali Jackson bring forward in "Groove du Jour" (Jazz & People).

The French label has captured this forthright American piano trio in a host of originals plus a jazz favorite, Jackie McLean's "Dr. Jackle" and the Great American Songbook standard "I'll Be Seeing You." The trio's approach to that Sammy Cain and Irving Kahal song etches the group's profile indelibly: lots of underlining the groove, a bluesy cast to the melodic treatment, and the dominance of the drums.

After a dreamy start, this "I'll Be Seeing You" wraps up the wistful feeling with a high-register bass solo, then becomes increasingly funky. Jackson lands on two and four with authority as the performance is infused with triplets in the manner of a classic r&b ballad. The unresolved ending represents the whimsical feeling that often inflects the original compositions as well. Throughout the arrangement, the Yes! men virtually rewrite the song's next-to-last phrase "I'll be looking at the moon" as "I'll be landing on the moon."

About that percussion emphasis: Fortunately Jackson is a resourceful drummer who tweaks each piece in a different direction, not by bashing his way forward to grab attention. The variety coming from the trap set may seem to direct the proceedings, but the piano and bass contribute essentially throughout.

Avital struck me as the most intriguing composer of the three: In the fast blues "Muhammad's Market," the drums again shoulder their way forward like Trump among world leaders in that famous group portrait. But ego seems less a factor than an imaginative feat: Souk meets soul, you might call this one, and Avital gets the credit for novel tone-painting.

The interplay among the three is always respectful, yet edgy. You get the feeling that Jackson, Avital, and Goldberg thrive on the kind of collegiality that never submerges competitiveness. This makes for an exciting collective statement that allows "Groove du Jour" to make its mark in the perpetually crowded field of the jazz piano trio.

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