(Roy Haynes, drums; Phineas Newborn, piano; Paul Chambers, bass)
There’s something endlessly endearing about piano trios. While they’ll never be able to engage in horn battles or wild swing sessions, they’ll also never fall prey to the reckless key-jumping and screeching solos that kill so many otherwise perfect jazz tunes. The trio put together by Roy Haynes for We Three is a perfect example of how a piano-based group (especially when that piano is played by Phineas Newborn) has a built in melodicism and charm that never grows old.
We Three’s first track, Reflection, begins with a hi-hat heavy tango beat from Haynes and some brief drum-piano interplay, which soon evolves into a delicate solo from Newborn backed by Haynes riding his ride cymbal. A careful listener will be kept delighted by Newborn’s sense of melodic invention and near perfect choice of notes.
On Solitaire, the trio turns a bit melancholy, but with a twist: As Newborn plays the song’s sad melody, he uses a bop player’s trick of the trade – dancing around the melody in experimental and dissonant ways, all the while ending on enough strong notes in the theme to keep the tune’s bittersweet mood alive. This is the wonderful technique employed so often by bop pianists like Thelonious Monk and Art Tatum, and Newborn arguably earns his place right next to those titans.
After Hours has a bluesy groove powered by a walking bass line from Chambers. Early in the song, Newborn’s phrasing reminds me of the vocal line in traditional blues song, a line sung to be followed by a standard descending progression. Of course the pianist soon switches this up, playing trills as Chambers keeps walking the same twelve bars, creating a wonderful contrast.
While piano trios may not scream out their presence like a horn based group, a smart listener is going to hear what, in my opinion, is the best kind of jazz: melodic, inventive, and forever sweet to the ears. If you don’t already own We Three (or if you’re an RVG remaster fan like me), grab this reissue up.
TrackList: Reflection, Sugar Ray, Solitaire, After Hours, Sneakin’ Around, Our Delight.
– Daniel Krow