Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Charlie Haden, Paul Motian, [insert pianist here]

My recent acquisition of the Geri Allen-Charlie Haden-Paul Motian album In the Year of the Dragon got me wondering, how many Haden-Motian piano trio sessions are out there?  With the help of some online discographies, I've come up with the following (I put an asterisk* by the ones I've heard):

w/ Keith Jarrett:
Life Between the Exit Signs
Somewhere Before
Mourning of a Star

w/ Geri Allen:
In the Year of the Dragon*
The Montreal Tapes
Live at the Village Vanguard

w/ Gonzalo Rubalcaba:
The Montreal Tapes*
Discovery: Live at Montreux

w/ Enrico Pieranunzi:
Special Encounter*

w/ Paul Bley:
The Montreal Tapes

If anybody reading this knows of any I've missed, please let me know in the comments section, because the ones I've heard so far have me wanting to "collect the set". 

Haden and Motian established themselves as one of the great one-two bass-drum punches as members of Keith Jarrett's "American Quartet" (presumably continuing the work they began on the Jarrett trio dates, which I haven't yet heard), but with the Bley and Allen collaborations, they made a strong case for themselves as the go-to partners for pianists with strong, slightly off-kilter musical personalities.  In the Year of the Dragon is an ideal piano trio record: beautifully equilateral, with all three musicians contributing compositions and continually pushing the others out onto the improvisational edge, where these players thrive.  Sounds, tunes, ideas jump off the record.  Lesser piano trios can slip into an undifferentiated, though polished, beige haze.  Geri Allen is allergic to beige, and Haden and Motian are at their best working with bolder colors. The only other Allen-Haden-Motian trio record I've heard, Etudes, is at least the equal of Dragon and gets to some different places stylistically (including a very memorable take on Herbie Nichols' "Shuffle Montgomery").

After a few listens, I haven't quite been able to get a bead on the Pieranunzi (Special Encounter).  It's safe to say that he's operating on a high level in the flowing/European classical-influenced/Bill Evans line.  There's beauty here, but I haven't dug deep enough yet to see what else is going on.  I can unhesitatingly recommend another Haden-Pieranunzi session, Silence, with Billy Higgins and Chet Baker* (the only time they appeared together on record?) sounding surprisingly great together.

Since writing the above, I've picked up the Montreal Tapes with Gonzalo Rubalcaba.  The Cuban pianist must have been in his mid-twenties at the time of this live recording, and he plays with exuberance and a kind of personal, idiosyncratic virtuosity.  The track list on this live set (part of a series of Haden discs, all recorded in 1989, that I'd like to get more of) has no real low points, but finishes particularly strong with three familiar but extremely welcome selections: "Silence", one of Haden's most beautiful compositions and one he's returned to often; Ornette's early gem "The Blessing", a great fit for this trio and a tune Haden had played on 30 years prior at the Hillcrest with Paul Bley; and "Solar", the Miles tune that's been recorded by several great pianists, starting (as far as I know) with Bill Evans at the Vanguard.  If I was going to make any criticism of this excellent album, it would be that it doesn't quite achieve the superb three-way balance of the trio with Allen. I don't know if this holds true of this trio's other records, but Rubalcaba and Haden seem to be in the fore, slightly overshadowing Motian, though he gets his licks in and is more than solid throughout.

One trio I'd like to hear is Haden and Motian with Ethan Iverson, who has often expressed his love for, and debt to, the Jarrett American Quartet.  As far as I know, they haven't recorded and I missed their run at the Vanguard in '08 (though I have seen Iverson and Haden as a duo). In fact, it was Iverson's recent, exhaustive piece on Ron Carter-Tony Williams trio sessions that inspired me to finally finish this piece that I've had sitting around in draft form for months.  Iverson refers to Carter-Williams as "the Rolls Royce", which begs the question of what to call the high-performance machine that was Reid Anderson and Nasheet Waits at Small's earlier this month with Iverson and Mark Turner.

*The idea I had of late-period Chet Baker, previously informed almost exclusively by the Let's Get Lost soundtrack, had to be recalibrated after hearing Silence.  Baker here doesn't sound anything like the mythical burnt-out junkie, slouching through Europe toward an increasingly inevitable death.  He's swinging, floating along, sounding like he's glad to be in such good company.  Even though Haden is the nominal leader, it's Higgins that sets the tone, his joyful playing ruling out the possibility of any musical moping.

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