What, another piano trio? I thought I was done with those last week! It’s funny how all these contemporary jazz releases keep arriving in clusters according to jazz genre. I love piano trios, and for the last couple of weeks I’ve reviewed plenty–fortunately, this is not a genre that bores me. The Jeff Hamilton Trio’s Catch Me If You Can is one of the best trio recordings so far this year, and I’ve actually had it floating around the review pile for a long time because it doesn’t even get released until July. But in July I will be moving across the country–again–and I don’t want it to get lost in the shuffle.
The Jeff Hamilton Trio has been together for more than 30 years, and they sound like it. Here’s another thrilling, cohesive trio led by a drummer, but Hamilton is known primarily for his exquisite brush and cymbal work. That provides Catch Me If You Can with a gentler, happier feel than most trio recordings–this isn’t three musicians trying to sound like five or six, but three gentlemen who know how to swing without overstating the joy.
Pianist Tamir Hendelman and bassist Jon Hamar are so in-sync with Hamilton’s distinct style that they’ve clearly developed their own styles to augment the overall sound. What makes Jeff Hamilton such a skilled leader, however, is his ability to play songs that are usually reserved for big bands. (Hamilton has played with many large ensembles, by the way.) That last comment seems at odds with my previous observation that this trio is trying to sound like a trio–and that’s where the magic resides. You can have both approaches simultaneously.
The Jeff Hamilton Trio adds another layer of complexity through their choice of tunes in this set. This is a combination of covers and originals, and these three know how to make all of the songs blend seamlessly. But it’s their choice of covers that’s exciting–they’re not just another ensemble applying their novel ideas to the Great American Songbook. Thad Jones’ “Big Dipper,” for example, doesn’t get covered nearly enough, nor does “Bijou,” which was a trademark song for Woody Herman.
Just over the last few days I’ve received more albums in the mail and yes, there are more piano trios now in the pile. Thankfully the Jeff Hamilton Trio stands out, even if you’ll have to wait until July to understand why.