Jazz that is easy to digest and has a feelgood veneer to it need not be a cop out. Case in point Puerta. Underneath the interplay across this trio has a lot of detail and the subtle shifting of texture and pace is cleverly delivered. The main dynamic (you could argue the record could easily be a vibes and drum duo affair) is the sparring between vibes and drums and it's interesting that both Jorge Rossy and Jeff Ballard have a connection with that most magical of contemporary pianists Brad Mehldau.
Do the vibes and marimba replace the desire for piano? Ah, no. Because they operate in a different manner entirely and so you get more a chunky chime and scatter of colour than you do with the piano. Perhaps a better comparison is when you are listening to a Fender Rhodes prominent in a small group sound there is a completely different mood and while the Rhodes lends itself to funky elaboration and overt groove the vibes in Rossy's thinking are more painterly.
There is little darkness of mood on the record nor is there frothy throw-away indulgence. In the wrong concept (especially when the only real purpose is to swing relentlessly) listening to vibes can be a bit tiring and one-dimensional. Not here and Rossy steers the trio admirably through a variety of hoops sticking closely to the melodic on some fine originals of his (Chris Cheek's 'Cargols' is the only piece not by the Catalan).
Metrical changes are not a huge jolting factor and there is no stunt improvising so if that is what you are after look away entirely. But Ballard's brittle, rugged, sound shows true grit and the great drummer is certainly the yin to Rossy's yang. Robert Landfermann's very measured double bass-playing creeps up on you and he seems to find the right way to moderate the twin narrative of vibes and drums as if he is a conductor. He often provides the last crucial note or adds meaning to a passage. His solo on 'Taínos' is textbook.
Not the most challenging record that ECM have put out this year (you won't need a PhD to be allowed permission to don your earphones in this case as is sometimes the entry requirement when a record becomes too cerebral) but one that certainly radiates communicative warmth and a willingness to explore improvising routes that evolve the groove rather than smash it into tiny fragments. Rossy makes lots of albums but few make as much complete sense as Puerta. SG
Jorge Rossy, top. Photo: ECM