The stalwart rhythm section of pianist Art Hirahara, bassist Boris Kozlov, and drummer Rudy Royston who grace so many of the Posi-Tone label releases, have this one, Echo Canyon, to themselves. Leader Hirahara indicated that this, his ninth album for the label, was not a planned session but rather a spontaneous improvisation session filling in for another of the label’s planned recordings that was unexpectedly canceled. As such, it draws from compositions by Hirahara and Kozlov, most that were written for or previously appeared on other releases from the label. As listeners know, the chemistry between these three is impeccable and they rise to the occasion accordingly.
As on previous releases, Hirahara often invokes nature in his compositions as evidenced by the title tracks, originally composed for label trumpeter Alex Sipiagin, with the trumpet melody delivered by bassist Kozlov in both pizzicato and arco. Immediately though we hear the pianist’s graceful, nimble touch and a series of intriguing, resounding chords amidst the tinkling notes. “Aoi Blu” takes both the Japanese and Italian words for the color blue, marrying the cultures of his native Japan and that of his Italian wife. Hirahara sees similarities in both cultures, especially the food and drink aspects which emphasize local agriculture. It is a buoyant piece, free of any melancholy one may associate with ‘blue.’
“Aftermath” is the first of the three Kozlov compositions, a brooding and often chilling meditation on what the world would look like post pandemic. This is the first piano trio version of the piece, one in which Kozlov uses mixed meters, not as an experiment per se, but to convey different phases of recovery. Royston’s frenetic but measured work on the kit, signals a reawakening toward the end and is featured to a greater extent on the motoring “Shura,” written for Kozlov’s friend, Sipiagin. The third piece, “Major Waltz,” is simply described by the composer as “major chords in ¾” but its echoes of Bill Evans in Hirahara’s inspired piano runs and the solo from the bassist move it far beyond that mundane description.
Hirahara did compose a new piece for this record, inspired by the senseless murder of Tyre Nichols, a young Black man, by the Memphis police. The title of this elegiac, hymn-like composition, “To the Sky,” is inspired by the young man’s photographs of sunsets and the sky. The final three Hirahara pieces each also had another in mind. “The More Things Change” is a bebop tune for Kozlov, highlighting the bassist’s versatility and virtuosity as well as the closely knit musical chemistry between the bassist and drummer Royston. Hirahara reveals his cinematic side, on “Mia Bella,” nodding to his wife and originally recorded with a saxophone quartet, the Italian motif is evident as the pianist has the film music composer, Ennio Morricone of ‘spaghetti Westerns” fame in mind. Royston’s cymbals work here adds a nice texture to the pianist’s flowing lines. Finally, “Spider’s Dance” is for Posi-Tone artist, saxophonist Alexa Tarantino, playing off her surname where in the region that bears her name, a folk dance called the Tarantella is performed as a cure for poisonous spider bites. It appeared on Tarantino’s excellent 2021 Firefly, and this version doesn’t sacrifice any of original’s energy due to invigorated playing from all three trio members.
Whether impromptu or planned, it’s hard to go wrong when this trio convenes. They can be counted on consistently.
- Jim Hynes
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