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One Band, Many Sounds

By Shawn Stone


The Lee Shaw Trio

Live at Art Gallery Reutlingen

John Medeski & Lee Shaw

Together Again: Live at the Egg

These two delightful live al bums capture the chops, versatility and sheer joy in performance of pianist Lee Shaw’s trio, which features bassist Rich Syracuse and drummer Jeff “Siege” Siegel.

The trio-only disc, recorded in Germany over three nights in the middle of a 2007 European tour, is a pleasing mix of (mostly) standards and (a couple of) originals. They’re also augmented by the local talent: The first four tracks feature baritone sax man Michael Lutzeier, and three of the remaining seven songs feature tenor saxophonist Johannes Enders. Lutzeier blows a beguiling intro to “Falling in Love Again,” and shines on his own jaunty “Music for Food.” (He also gives a halting, funny, spoken introduction to Cole Porter’s jaunty “It’s Alright With Me.”) Enders gets a showcase on Ornette Coleman’s “Turnaround.”

This is just the icing, however; much of the pleasure in these performances is in the interplay within the Trio. Leonard Bernstein’s “Lonely Town,” with its haunting melody, gets a particularly sensitive treatment, while Shaw’s contribution, “Tears,” is a standout.

The Shaw-Medeski disc, recorded at the Egg on April 5, 2009, has an on-the-edge quality. Turns out that the jam-band virtuoso studied piano with Lee Shaw when he was a kid; the evidence is right there in the photograph on the back of the jacket, and this reunion concert runs the musical gamut from A to, if not Z, then, well, at least S or T.

The opener, “Lizards,” is pure improv. The players circle around each other, Shaw and Medeski both on piano, eventually gelling into a satisfying jam. Shaw’s “Prairie Child” finds Medeski providing accents, and eventually, trading leads on melodica while Shaw leads the way. “Holiday,” also by Shaw, begins frantically, with a dissonant piano over borderline spastic rhythms provided by Siegel and Syracuse, and then becomes something full of melody and color. If I wanted to get literal about it, “Holiday” sounds like the hectic trip to the vacation spot, followed by the vacation itself.

Medeski’s “Solo Piano Piece” is moody, almost melancholic, and gives everyone a chance to stand out; the addition of Medeski on Hammond B3 organ adds different colors to this version Shaw’s “Tears.” The last two tracks match their titles: Shaw’s “Blues 11” is in a blue mood and Medeski’s “Wiggly’s Way” is playful.

In their strengths and pleasures, these albums complement each over well.


Robin Holcomb and Talking Pictures with Wayne Horvitz

The Point of It All

For The Point of It All, Robin Holcomb and her husband Wayne Horvitz combined their keyboards (piano and Hammond M-3, respectively) with the quartet Talking Pictures. Led by guitarist Ron Samworth, they had been performing a number of Holcomb’s compositions, and their cellist, Peggy Lee, had been playing some concerts as a duo with her.

Eluding easy categorization, Holcomb can be, by turns, a romantic composer, a deft improviser, and a singer-songwriter embracing both emotional vignettes and literary songcraft. Here she’s found a framework that allows all of these impulses to flourish. A pair of group improvisations comfortably rub shoulders with Holcomb’s originals, a Neil Young cover (“After the Gold Rush”), and a couple by other band members. Besides cellist Lee, trumpeter Bill Clark is a sympathetic foil for the fragile beauty of Holcomb’s artful songs and singing. This is a gorgeously autumnal album, organically diverse, but unified in its dusky hues.

—David Greenberger

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