Bassist Joe Martin certainly took no chances when assembling the band for this 2009 recording. You can't do much better than Chris Potter (ts), Brad Meldau (pno) and Marcus Gilmore (dr). It was no surprise for me when I read on his web page that the disc received ample critical attention, including mention on several top ten lists.
As a pianist, I have tremendous respect for what Brad Meldau can do at the keyboard. One can't help but be impressed by his use of inner voice movement and his left hand dexterity/independence. However (for the most part), I've stopped seeking out his trio recordings and going to his concerts because they usually leave me with a headache, rather than the sensation of being uplifted.
I did enjoy hearing Brad within this quartet, functioning as a sideman. Although he utilizes many of his trademark virtuosic devices, there are moments when he seemingly "forgets" to be acutely cerebral, and just plays great, swingin' jazz. One such moment is track 6, "Once Before". Strangely, to my ears, his bluesy ideas are reminiscent of Don Grolnick during the early '90s.
I appreciated how his solos often developed from out of the tunes --- using and developing the motifs from the compositions. Two other piano highlights were his solo on the ballad, "I Dream" (no one does dark and brooding better than Brad) and the pyrotechnical two-hand independence on the bossa, "Not By Chance".
Compositionally, some tunes are stronger than others, but in general, they all have singable melodies, solid harmonic structures, thoughtful forms and serve as great "blowing vehicles". "The Balloon Song" by Jaco Pastorius intrigues me. Although I haven't transcribed it, it sounds like an angular 12-tone row played in its various manifestations, in unison quarter notes by the bass and bass clarinet. The bright tempo and Gilmore's brush work really bring it to life before the groove disintegrates into free, interactive, collective improvisation. Very cool.
What I think I like most about this album is the symbiosis between the bass and drums. Joe Martin is a really unique, modern bass player. He "breaks up the time" in very interesting ways --- sometimes playing fragmented melodies in his bass lines and developing them over time, rather than "walking" in a traditional manner. Playing off one another, he and Marcus Gilmore create some serious grooves, as well as spacious musical environments.
How the solos were structured within the tunes was another strong point for this album. On "Caché", for instance, solos begin with trading between the saxophone and piano, leading into conversational improvisation. I applaud their effort to move away from the overly well-worn path of tenor, piano and bass solos followed by drum trading. This is certainly something I think about when structuring my own arrangements.
Thanks go to my piano student Mike Verselli, for bringing this fantastic album to my attention.