Paul Giallorenzo, piano
Joshua Abrams, bass
Mikel Patrick Avery, drums
Delmark Records, 2017
When I hosted a jazz radio program, there was a type of album I would both abhor and appreciate. Call it the “transparent” or, perhaps, “apparent” recording. By that I mean one could predict what one would hear by the titles of the pieces. Or, unless the artist was established as a delver into deconstruction (early Cecil) or inspired improvisation (Jarrett, Mehldau), the album title would suppress the mystery: (Blank) Pays Tribute to/Plays the Tunes of (Blank). Generally, these predictabilities made previewing the album easy to both ignore the music after a few bars and pre-plan its use in selection/order. For example, if a tune reminded me of a Bud Powell recording, then I could play it alongside a Powell recording. The remarkable thing is that my listeners never seemed to mind, especially if there were decades between the artists.
It works with side players, too. I thought of that when I heard a bass line played by Joshua Abrams on Paul Giallorenzo’s newest trio album, Flow. A Monk-ish, loping blues, “over/under,” is deftly recorded to highlight Abrams’ strong walking bass, reminiscent of Ron Carter’s work on Stephen Scott’s underrated Aminah’s Dream (Verve). I would play this new cut after “Young Confucius,” a stellar Scott composition where Carter’s woody presence propels a delightfully pedantic keyboard statement. Fortunately for this new album, the playing is so strong and inventive that the occasionally derivative character of the compositions fades into non-significance. The titles of the songs do, generally, point to the flavor and rhythm of the material. And while Giallorenzo’s influences are readily evinced, they do not make the playing all that predictable, as the leader likes to mix genre and pace. Once the listener hears that, staying with the music and experiencing revelatory moments become easier.
So…”a-frolick-ing” frolics; “fractures” breaks from melody and rhythm; “rolling” rolls; “darkness” is dark; “lightness” is lighter; and “a way we go,” well, goes. And it appears Giallorenzo’s muses have to include Herbie Nichols and Monk. The album is bookended by pieces seemingly clipped from Herbie outtakes, with appropriate Giallorenzo modification. On “a-frolick-ing,” a chamber line is welded onto a Nichols-ish swing, with the pianist dancing in and out of the beat. Later, “a way we go” meshes New Orleans rhythm with a Nichols-like postmodern bop attack.
Throughout, this trio mirrors the successful arrangement of groups like The Bad Plus, where a sturdy, inventive bassist—here, Abrams, a new fave—bolsters Giallorenzo’s peripatetic piano and Mikel Patrick Avery’s restless percussion. This crucial structure bolsters the two most intriguing, consecutive pieces, “over/under” and “flipd scrip,” which suggest a mirror imaged relationship (hence, perhaps, the latter’s title). The first’s vibe seems to be welded to Monk’s inverted blues, while the second inverts the inversion and sucks the blues out in favor of something like what Jimmy Giuffre was driving after. Abrams’ bowed solo and Avery’s addition dramatizes the mood, leading to an abbreviated statement by Giallorenzo that suggests the background to a hip detective show. This listener really wanted them to keep going. The more abstract compositions contribute an aesthetic balance that points to the considerable breadth and depth of the players. In accordance with the previous summary above, “interstice” interstices the album’s more conventional rhythms with something very different. Giallorenzo begins with a pensive, lightly textured expression that later drops into dark modal expressionism, while Abrams dips into Hadenesque contrapuntal territory (as when Charlie accompanied Jarrett, back in the day). “darkness” extends this mood, but in a less frantic way as the bass plods, dirge-like, while the piano and drums try to lift the tone upward. “lightness’,” thus, lifts the fog and shines a bright, child-like melody on the proceedings, much like the way “Jungle Book” ends Weather Report’s great album Mysterious Traveler, as Zawinul African-dances alongside his children’s joyous yelps. Trio albums can be an abhorrence and a revelation. Fortunately, the emergence of creative musicians that milk synergy and mutual respect has given us plenty of great jazz in the 21st Century. Flow, featuring three of Chicago’s most interesting players, is a fine addition to this new tradition. May it ever flow.