Jazz CD Reviews
Lee Shaw Trio – Blossom – Artists Recording Collective
Published on March 18, 2010
Lee Shaw Trio – Blossom – Artists Recording Collective ARC-2086, 55:40 ****:
(Lee Shaw – piano; Rich Syracuse – bass, co-producer; Jeff “Siege” Siegel – drums, co-producer)
Success can come at any age. Just ask pianist Lee Shaw. The 83-year-old keyboardist was largely unknown to the masses until the start of this century. The classically-trained Shaw turned to jazz when she saw Count Basie and soon after formed a jazz trio with her husband, drummer Stan Shaw, performed in New York City and then relocated to Albany, where the two played with visiting musicians such as Dexter Gordon, Frank Foster and Chico Hamilton. She also became a noted instructor: John Medeski of Medeski, Martin & Wood is one celebrated student. After her husband passed away, Shaw created her current trio with bassist Rich Syracuse and drummer Jeff Siegel and released several recordings, including her 2008 breakthrough CD/DVD package, Live in Graz, reviewed here.
Shaw’s fourth trio outing, Blossom, brings a freshness to the crowded piano trio field. On eight originals (five by Shaw, two by Syracuse and one by Siegel) and a couple of covers the threesome shows a singular style that is contemporary but classic which reveals a memorable approach to the basic bass, drums and keys setup.
The band deftly proceeds from ragtime to bop-based blues to gentle ballads with equal assurance. Shaw’s balmy opener “Blossom” combines Bill Evans’ harmonic sensitivity with Oscar Peterson’s joie de vivre. The composition demonstrates Shaw’s prowess as composer and player: she flirts with fertile chord changes while skillfully shifting from ebullient swing to an almost classical inclination that echoes her conservatory education.
The three S’s (Shaw, Syracuse and Siegel) also handle blues with confidence. On a jaunty version of Fats Navarro’s “Fats’ Blues” Shaw discloses her soulful side with incisive blues chords as she manipulates the piano’s low end while she romps out a frisky melody with her right hand. Shaw’s “Blues 11” has a sense of sweetness but also conveys a deeper undercurrent that has a lingering scent of mysteriousness.
Syracuse furnishes a pair of pieces. “Cool Jack” is anything but: it’s an uncorked hard-bop burner where Shaw spins, bobs and weaves across the 88 keys while Syracuse provides a steadfast bass and Siegel confirms he has been studying Art Blakey and other stalwarts. The ironically titled “Sleeper” is a bluesy medium-tempo tumbler where the two rhythm aces conspire together like the old friends they are, cultivating a fine bass/drum duet offset by Shaw’s harmonics.
The longest numbers are also the most tonally meditative. Shaw’s reflective “Algo Triste” features a graceful, dexterous Syracuse improvisation and lustrous Shaw contributions. Siegel’s subtle shadings merit close attention, especially his articulate cymbal ticks and percussive tinges. Siegel’s smoothly sloping “Shifting Sands” has a similar slant that has an elegant waltz-time arrangement. It’s a good case that testifies that simple and nice is all that is sometimes needed. There is a lot more here to examine: for example, Shaw’s solo rendition of Johnny Guarnieri’s sprightly “Virtuoso Rag” is a marvel.
It may have taken a few too many decades, but Lee Shaw has arrived in the spotlight and she is well worth discovering and listening to.
2. Fat’s Blues
3. Blues 11
5. Algo Triste
6. Cool Jack
8. Shifting Sands
9. Virtuoso Rag
10. Nipper’s Dream
— Doug Simpson