Acoustic piano trios no longer capture the contemporary jazz mood in terms of a big trend. Hand on heart the last one that really did that was by a band that sadly do not exist any more, EST, and their Live in Gothenburg released in 2019 although nowhere near the splash they made in their heyday; or by Robert Glasper when he reconvened his trio for Covered. The Keith Jarrett Standards trio after all has retired, the list goes on… although you might argue that GoGo Penguin are still drawing big audiences, which is true. But they mainly look to a world way beyond jazz more in love with Aphex Twin and strobey ravey davey-ism.
And yet the piano trio remains a flexible and much loved force in global jazz even if our attention changed dramatically for good reason when Afrofuturism swept in around the time of The Epic and via Shabaka Hutchings' several groups since has kept the momentum up. Certainly bands with saxophone in them are more listened to than at any time since Joshua Redman first appeared in the 1990s.
That said the piano trio remains in the right hands a very satisfying format and the inspirational trio work here, although this is not an experimental trio at all or any kind of trendsetter unless ''quality'' suddenly crashes into ''trend'', scores in the rapport they have managed to transfer to performance. Live albums can be scrappy affairs or over-long, not here on either count.
Pianist George Colligan on some of his own albums has often dazzled but somehow failed to ignite our imagination as completely as here. On Arklow his solos are candid and powerful and above all make sense. He is if you like the US equivalent of that fine UK player John Turville and shares with him the ability to interpret standards or knotty, complex originals and make them somehow sing.
Darren Beckett finds himself in a situation when he is not overshadowed and he plays his part well in a democratic trio, a technically perfect highly spirited communicative player who I think we will all be hearing a lot more of in the coming years in different line-ups.
Recorded live in a church in the small Irish town of Arklow, County Wicklow, Live in Arklow is shaped around standards and the classic post-bop modern mainstream modal traditions of the piano trio that began with Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly.
Completed by well regarded Irish bassist David Redmond the trio is a demonstration of three significant talents at work who all together show that their chemistry adds more to the sum of their considerable individual talents to raise everything up to a new level of engagement. Their treatment of the Freddie Hubbard standard 'Up Jumped Spring' for instance is an infectiously bright opening and put your seatbelt on as the trio later hurtle in spectacular fashion on 'Usain' at the end, the tune named after the great Jamaican runner Usain Bolt. SG
Live in Arklow is out now on Ubuntu. Photo of George Colligan top, via the label.