Greg Murphy Trio – Bright Idea – Whaling City Sound WCS 111, 75:41 ****1/2:

(Greg Murphy – piano, keyboards; Eric Wheeler – double bass; Jeff “Tain” Watts – drums)

The piano trio has always been a staple of jazz. Among the many celebrated groups include pianists like Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner, Keith Jarrett, Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Ahmad Jamal and Vince Guaraldi. Most often, the piano is augmented by double bass and drums. The proprietary dynamics of piano trios include rhythmic intensity and defined interplay. When this format began in the early 60’s, the piano was prominently featured, as the double bass and drums were functioning in support. This began to change with players like Evans and Jarrett who created a balanced environment for their band mates. Modern piano jazz trios are prevalent and continue the “newer” tradition of independent collaboration. The Greg Murphy Trio is a living example of this genre. An accomplished pianist, Murphy studied with New Orleans legend Ellis Marsalis. He then became part of the New York scene, playing with various groups. In particular, his two-decade association with drummer Rashied Ali which provided a musical linkage to John Coltrane. Murphy’s technical expertise and visionary arrangements have propelled him to a successful recording catalogue.

His latest release on Whaling City, Greg Murphy Trio Bright Idea is a effervescent collage of musical expression. His trio includes double bassist Eric Wheeler and drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts. The opening track, “Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise” was written by Sigmund Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein II for the 1928 operetta The New Moon. Oddly this song has become a popular jazz standard, recorded by the likes of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Ron Carter, J.J. Johnson, Freddie Hubbard and Sonny Rollins, to name a few. This cover charges out of the gate with propulsive intensity, driven by drummer Watts and double bassist Wheeler. Murphy’s muscular chording leads into a spirited notation run. At the 3;30 mark, Wheeler cuts loose on a colorful solo and is followed by the inspired Watts before the trio reunites. In a startling turn from jazz tradition to pop interpretation, Pharrell Williams gargantuan hit “Happy’ (from Despicable 2) displays a jaunty latin funkiness as Murphy switches to electric piano. There is a “salsa” party vibe with Watts adding rhythmic texture. The jam is relatively straight-forward and playful.

Back to bop-like jazz, the title track is stridently up tempo. Murphy launches percussive chords and solo notation with relentless energy. Wheeler’s gliding double bass and Watts’ furious drumming are stellar. Each receives adequate showcasing as individual talents. Joe Ford’s lyrical “Earthlings” flows with a gossamer resonance. The trio maintains a pulsating undercurrent throughout the number. On another pop opus “24K” (Bruno Mars), the group explores some grandiosity and funk-injected chords that morph into a wilder swing tempo. Murphy’s runs are scintillating and the song is transformed into purer jazz before the ending. In a palpable change of pace, “Street Cats” has a free-form piano lead, but with gritty punctuated strokes by double bass and drums. The complex rhythmic subtleties are engaging. “Finer Things” has a soulful core with prominent chording. A mellower interlude occurs at 1:00, and the tempos change again, but it concludes with forceful chording. For those waiting on a tender ballad, “For My Mom” may fit the bill. This tender exploration is melodic, but still gets strengthened by trio dynamics.

In classic jazz fluency, “Straight No Blues” is hard-hitting and potent. All of the elements of great jazz trios are unfurled, passion and instrumental fluency. Watts delivers a fierce solo (that lasts over a minute). “Moving Violation” (which includes another extended drum solo) exudes different moods and tempo variations. On “Well, Of All Things” a cool, jazzy vamp is folded into a 3/4 time signature that is hypnotic. In homage to icon John Coltrane, the trio takes on a  “newly discovered” Trane composition (“Untitiled Original 11383”). All of the freneticism and modal inflections are distilled by the players, collectively and individually. It is jazz of the highest order, and the solos are mesmerizing. The rousing finale, “Juneteenth Notes” is a tribute to the delayed emancipation of Texas slaves.

Greg Murphy Trio Bright Idea should please traditional and contemporary jazz fans!

TrackList: 
Softly As In A Morning Sunrise
Happy
Bright Idea
Earthlings
24K Magic
Street Cats
Finer Things
For My Mom
Straight No Blues
Moving Violation
Well, Of All Things
Untitled Original 11383
Juneteenth Notes

—Robbie Gerson

More Information available at Greg Murphy’s website:

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