CD: Live at Smalls – Kevin Hays Trio

This is an unadorned, live acoustic piano trio set with some playing of spine tingling intensity.  The New York club has just started a record label putting out music recorded live in the small underground (in the literal  sense) club, just down the road from the Village Vanguard in Greenwich Village. They say, and the recording feels like it, that you hear it pretty much as it happened without lots of treatment of the sound. Given that, the quality is good. What about the music?

Well, it hit me strongly how distinctive a ‘jazz accent’ can be. The programme has a Charlie Parker tune (Cheryl), a standard (Sweet and Lovely) a few Hays originals and (the giveaway?) a couple of arrangements of pieces by early 20th century composers (Hindemith and Ivanovichi… ok I had to google that one). There is not a trace of parker be-bop immediately obvious in Hays’ playing: its all fluid lines, two handed counterpoint and flurries of notes bursting out as the momentum of the trio builds – as if they can hardly contain themselves – the live excitement of the moment is reflected in the whoops from the audience. There is something classical and romantic about the sound but its swinging and driving forward. Hays own Loving You is a balladic anthem like piece with hints of gospel, Sco More Blues more overtly jazzy but with those same fluid lines and sense of the trio as three pieces of a jigsaw fitting together. This could be a description of Brad Mehldau trio gig – the sound is an obvious reference point, but they just seem to be speaking with the same accent to me and its an eloquent and passionate voice that we hear. Check it out.

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