Justin Kauflin Trio – Live At Sam First – Sam First Records

by | Oct 27, 2023 | Jazz CD Reviews, SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

Jazz moves forward with this promising debut of a live recording series.

Justin Kauflin Trio – Live At Sam First – Sam First Records SFR-001 180-gram stereo vinyl, 46:13 ****:

(Justin Kauflin – piano; David Robaire – double bass; Mark Ferber – drums)

Sam First Records is the in-house label for the Westside Los Angeles jazz club, Sam First. A product of the club owner Paul Solomon and musician/artistic director David Robaire, the label is keeping the spirit of jazz moving forward in the 21st century. Utilizing state-of-the-art equipment (24 channels of Grace and AEA preamps running through a Lynx Aurora A/D converter), there is a strong effort to bring pristine recording aesthetics to a live club setting. Their setup also includes AEA ribbon mics with DPA, Mojave and Soyuz condenser mics. The first release in this “live” series is pianist Justin Kauflin, a musical pioneer who is celebrated by jazz royalty including Quincy Jones.  

Justin Kauflin – Live At Sam First opens with one of the five originals, “Coming Home”. The trio establishes a gentle swirling flow as Kauflin delivers a melodic, intricate solo. He distills the compositional essence, and manages to translate it with flourishes and muscular chords. Double bassist Robaire executes a nimble run as Ferber drives the rhythm on drums (including cymbals). Kauflin returns with a dizzying array of crescendos to finish the number. “Tempest” has a percussive arrangement as Kauflin explores a variety of tempos and phrasing. His initial effort is warm and hypnotic. The trio glides into a swing mode with more vibrancy on piano. A slow fade leads into a pensive double bass run that Kauflin joins in tender counterpoint. In a change of pace, “No Matter” delivers classic up tempo jazz. Kauflin’s first solo begins in an ethereal way, but has a distinctive pulse. There is a Latin feel and the intensity builds with impressive trilling. Robaire offers another understated deliberate solo. After a graceful counter, Kauflin shines on an atmospheric solo with expansive notation.

Side B kicks off with an ambitious, creative performance on “Exodus”. The jam begins with a piano solo infused with classical structures and motifs. As the trio engages, it shifts to a breezy near 3/4 time romp that showcases the inherent chemistry of the ensemble. As the track progresses, it embraces a fuller swing vibe. Kauflin’s next solo is freewheeling and energetic with a straight-ahead resonance. But he morphs into a lilting interlude with a touch of syncopation as the song does a nice fade. On the lone cover (Cole Porter’s standard “You Do Something To Me”), the group sustains a  medium swing groove. The first piano solo has a finger-snapping resonance and sparkling articulation. Ferber gets a well-deserved turn in the spotlight with memorable drum fills and a solo. The finale, “Thank You Lord” is a bona fide gospel statement. Kauflin’s piano runs have soulful accents and the listener can feel the heartfelt emotion. There is punctuation and modulation that contributes to the forceful jam. 

 Justin Kauflin TrioLive At Sam First is a very auspicious start to this newest series for 

this game-changing label. The sound mix is balanced and the mic placement is precise with measured volume and separation. The vinyl pressing has a small amount of surface noise, but the quieter acoustics (with limited crowd noise) are front and center. Each vinyl comes with a digital download.

—Robbie Gerson

Justin Kauflin Trio – Live At Sam First – Sam First Records SFR-001 180-gram stereo vinyl, 46:13 ****:

Side A:
Coming Home
No Matter

Side B:
You Do Something To Me
Thank You Lord   

More information through Sam First Records

Album Cover for Logo Sam First Records

Album Cover for Justin Kauflin Trio, Live at Sam First


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