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REVIEW | Paul Giallorenzo Trio "Play" by Jeff Cebulski

Paul Giallorenzo


Delmark Records, 2023

By Jeff Cebulski | ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

When I was teaching general ed composition, I would play Thelonious Monk while assessing student writing. I found that Monk’s unique off-centered palette provided the perfect background music; it activated me to see things in the writing that I would normally miss, a way to discover how to mentor the student without losing interest, i.e. getting bored.

And Monk, with others along the same vein, like Herbie Nichols, has never been boring, even when I listen to the umpteenth version of, oh, “Epistrophy.”

A local pianist who has furthered that vibe is Paul Giallorenzo. It’s been five-and-a-half years since I wrote about the Giallorenzo trio’s first album Flow, where “a sturdy, inventive bassist, {Joshua] Abrams, bolsters Giallorenzo’s peripatetic piano and Mikel Patrick Avery’s restless percussion.”

I am happy to report that, in 2023, nothing has changed. The trio’s latest album Play continues the Monk/Nichols spirit (with recognized touches of Andrew Hill and Sun Ra) that characterizes Giallorenzo’s compositional approach, generally avoiding needless repetition and plain derivation. Abrams shines, as usual, as a foil to Giallorenzo’s constant musing, while Avery demonstrates appropriate restraint and punctuations throughout.

Oh, one might argue back that the theme on “Smooth Sails” clearly sounds like a reconstruction of Monk, and it sure does seem so, but are you bored with that? Not me. And its follow-up, “Where Does Time Go?”, either a reflection about those five-and-a-half years or an existential jazz query, does perhaps reflect “Pannonica” in its languid pace and melodic musing, but so what? In both cases, Giallorenzo uses the connection as the muse to his own pianistic hikes, a thinking-aloud approach to improvisation that the bassist Abrams and drummer Avery adjust to as smoothly as whiskey reacts to bitters. (Okay, pick your own simile.)

When Giallorenzo channels Nichols (or, as Neil Tesser’s notes suggest, Andrew Hill), on “Bindara Bùndara,” the opening bars set a Coplandesque scene—suggesting the hectic, ever-moving city—before the trio establishes its presence in a neat pocket of chamber music, with the pianist’s plodding comp providing the underpinning to an Abrams solo that progressively swings toward the conclusion.

An equally impressive piano/bass counterpoint is represented in the abstract excursions “Meditation” and “Decomposition” where Abrams reminds me of Charlie Haden playing with Keith Jarrett. In between, the trio goes all-Monkish again (with a touch of New Orleans) in “Bouncing with Berman.” Later, the spectre of Nichols returns on “Combustion,” but with Giallorenzo mixing some blues within the tossed rhythmic salad.

Sometimes the trio locks into a groove and plays with it, searching for an idea, as in the openers “Vamps and Feels” and “Synchronie.” The results feel experimental but suggest starting points to progress from on other tunes. When the loping Monk-ish melody “Saturday the 14th” emerges, you get the feeling the guys are locked in.

Giallorenzo, in those liner notes, states that he tries “to keep the music rooted in a rhythmic swing context…And then we can put our personal touch on top of it.” This stylistic choice indeed makes his trio work accessible to many jazz fans while keeping things fresh and open to further interpretation. The evident fellowship and musical depth exhibited by this ensemble on its two albums (both on Delmark) makes following their progress engaging and enjoyable—especially live, methinks—creating a thirst for future refreshment…and background reading music.

Paul Giallorenzo Trio, Play. Delmark Records, 2023.

Paul Giallorenzo, piano

Joshua Abrams, double bass

Mikel Patrick Avery, drums

About Jeff Cebulski

Jeff Cebulski, who lives in Chicago, is a retired English educator (both secondary and collegiate) and longtime jazz aficionado. His career in jazz includes radio programs at two stations in southeast Wisconsin, an online show on Kennesaw State’s (GA) Owl Radio from 2007 until 2015, and review/feature writing for Chicago Jazz Magazine since 2016, including his column "Jazz With Mr. C". He has interviewed many jazz artists, including Joshua Redman, Charles Lloyd, Dave Holland, John Beasley, and Chris Brubeck, as well as several Chicago-based players. Jeff is a member of the Jazz Journalists Association. Contact Jeff at


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