One of the most outstanding trio albums we covered on these pages was the 2020 release of TRIO GRANDE with alto saxophonist Will Vinson, drummer Antonio Sanchez and guitarist Gilad Hekselman. Now Vinson returns with another mostly trio recording, Tripwire, going chord-less, a configuration favored by legends such as Sonny Rollins, Joe Lovano, and many others, with bassist Matt Penman and drummer Eric Harland, as special guest tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana (check her outstanding 2022 debut as a leader, 12 Stars) also joins for two tracks. The album captures the joy of returning to the studio post pandemic, resulting in this stirring set of six highly improvised tracks, a mix of originals and covers, cut in just one day.
A Vinson original, “Tripwire,” opens as Harland sets a steady skip-like pace over which Vinson delivers a series of blues-based choruses over a triplet undercurrent and a strong anchoring bassline. There’s a looseness to the vibe that stays intact through the remainder of the album with Vinson’s bandmates responding and reacting to the alto’s bursts, runs, and flares. Each trio member gets an ample chance to stretch out with the bass-drum conversation especially shining. “Blue And Sentimental” is a cover that Vinson transforms into a vocal-like take on his horn, reaching deep for bluesy tones and killer phrasing.
“Things” twists and bends the standard “All The Things You Are” inside and out as guest Melissa Aldana joins first for the extended exploratory sublime intro and later for more vigorous exchanges, the two jabbing back and forth until the abrupt close. Original composition “Fable,” which begins with Penman’s plucking and bell-like percussion from Harland which is almost chord-like, serves as a dreamy interlude with Vinson’s layered sax taking the listener into mysterious realms.
“For All We Know,” rather incredibly was first introduced in 1930 as a foxtrot by Hal Kemp and his Orchestra, a little know anecdote that would surprise almost anyone listening to Vinson’s version, where he again gets explorative, finding new ways to harmonize rather than simply playing single notes as his trio mates are remarkably restrained in support. Aldana returns for “Resting Jazz Face,” an original composition with intricate metrics as Vinson and Aldana engage in feisty exchanges, each pushing the other to higher intensity as Harland and Penman stoke the fire, the latter going for the fences in his solo.
Tripwire skillfully blends both composed and free flowing ideas which resonate that much strongly in the chord-less configuration. There’s a looseness and intimacy that seems to transport the listener right beside these talents in the studio.
- Jim Hynes