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Shoot The Piano Player: New Jazz Trios

The new economy of jazz has forced many musicians to adopt a "go lean" approach; more than ever, three is a magic number. Trio recordings in jazz aren't uncommon, but the proliferation of the trinity this year makes the case that less is more. Ultimately, however, the musicians are in charge of what they create, and for some reason, they're making more and more small-ensemble recordings.

Piano trio is typically the format of choice, and there's always a fresh crop of them each year. Astute practitioners of jazz are a libertine bunch, however, and they can create ways to communicate without the comfortable harmonic buttress of a chordal instrument like the piano. Sure, 88 keys can provide an exhaustive set of choices, but sometimes the fun lies in finding a new way to say jazz without the same recommended tools.

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Shoot The Piano Player: New Jazz Trios

Linda Oh

I can't remember the last time I heard a bass/trumpet/drums jazz-trio recording, but bassist Linda Oh's debut recording, Entry, makes a case for hearing more of them. Oh, a Malaysian-born Aussie now living in Harlem, writes music that grows like cellular cultures on an agar plate of rich, vampy nutrient. In "Fourth Limb," the punchy trumpet lines come from Ambrose Akinmusire, winner of the 2007 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. Obed Calvaire provides the rhythm as required — in lockstep with Oh's bass at times, wide open and pushy when necessary. This album comes out on Oct. 6.

Digital Primitives

Hum Crackle & Pop is the follow-up to Digital Primitives' 2006 eponymous recording on Assif Tsahar's artist-driven music label, Hopscotch Records. Cooper-Moore makes his own instruments for performance, and this recording prominently features the didley-bo, the twinger and the mouth bow. Tsahar's bass clarinet starts the ambling "Walkabout," a composition from drummer and mbira player Chad Taylor. For the record, some people call the mbira a thumb piano, but that does not make it a piano. This album comes out Oct. 6.

Marcus Strickland Trio

Saxophonist Marcus Strickland is a graduate of the New School, a finishing school for young and amazing jazz musicians in New York. He's also the Miami-born twin brother of drummer EJ Strickland, whose powerful cluster of rhythm meets the low end theory of bassist Ben Williams (a member of Stefon Harris & Blackout and other hip-hop jazz delights) on Idiosyncracies. Among a set of interesting covers of Oumou Sangare, Jose Gonzalez, Bjork and Outkast, you'll discover gems like "The Child," an original composition that features the sax-bass-drums trio with a clarinet soli and some studio chicanery that mimics the chop sample effect.

Jason Stein's Locksmith Isidore

Jason Stein, a member of Ken Vandermark's Bridge 61 quartet, concentrates exclusively on the bass clarinet, an instrument that already has a certain gritty sonority. Stein has a way of reducing Eric Dolphy (who made people in jazz actually listen to the bass clarinet) in spirit, but he doesn't use the growling effects or stuttering phraseology as simple mimicry. Three Less Than Between, a recording of original compositions, occasionally makes you want to shriek back at it, and maybe punch a few kittens while you're at it. That's not a bad thing, so long as you're not actually punching kittens. This album comes out in October.

Tyshawn Sorey

Big ups to Tyshawn Sorey, able drummer of Fieldwork with Vijay Iyer and the Steve Lehman Octet. Sorey could crush a drum set with a single stick, but when he records under his own brand, the point of the exercise is more about the overall effect of his compositions than his overwhelming skill at his chosen instrument. Koan is a welcoming exercise in the minimalist aesthetic of sound-printing, and it conveys a quietude that sustains memories as if they're etched along a glacial moraine. In some sections of this recording, the loudest sound you hear is someone breathing; sometimes that someone is you. This album comes out Sept. 26.

Copyright 2009 WBGO

Josh Jackson
Josh Jackson is the associate general manager for content at WRTI in Philadelphia.