I don’t know an awful lot about Marc Copland except that he is a fine and delicate pianist who has made duo albums with two of my favourite UK jazzmen, Stan Sulzmann & Kenny Wheeler. What I seem to know plenty about these days are piano trio albums because for the last 10 years we have been positively awash with them. As if it wasn’t enough that ECM seem to release everything that Keith Jarrett’s ‘Standards’ trio play, the early years of this century have seen a whole range of new piano wizards emerging to stake a claim to the legacy of Bill Evans or Art Tatum or Oscar Peterson or whoever…..
First we had the Esbjörn Svensson Trio, who from about 1997 onwards released a series of increasingly accessible albums that had a strong crossover appeal to non-jazz audiences. They were followed by the Tord Gustavsen Trio who almost abandoned any improvisatory inclinations for what can best be described as ‘chamber jazz.’ Then came another enfant terrible, Brad Mehldau, whose trio made a habit of adapting songs by the likes of Radiohead and Nick Drake to good effect. And there were others as well…John Taylor, Uri Caine, Kenny Barron and more besides were all intermittently involved in trio recordings during the same period.
The end result of all this overload was that people began to suffer from a surfeit of sensitivity – there were simply too many of these albums being released and many – like this Marc Copland cd – simply got lost. As I’m sure most people know, Esbjörn Svensson died in a tragic diving accident out in the Stockholm archipelago last year, but there was a feeling even beforehand that EST would need to take a slightly different approach if they were to continue to prosper. Brad Mehldau took time out from his trio to make two albums and tour with Pat Metheny – a pretty smart career move, I’d say – and Tord Gustavsen has added the former Masqualero saxophonist Tore Brunborg to his most recent touring party, though how permanent an arrangement this will be is unknown to me at the moment.
Anyway, in all of this welter of piano trio recordings, I had completely missed this 2005 offering from Marc Copland (piano), Drew Gress (bass) and Jochen Rueckert (drums); the latter a name new to me.
The title, let’s face it, is not promising…it smacks of some offcuts left lying on the studio floor and cobbled together by a desperate record company. Either that or there’s something a bit Richard Clayderman-ish about it.
However, the track list is intriguing, beginning with one of Joni Mitchell’s moody mid-70’s tunes, ‘Rainy Night House’ and also featuring the oft-covered ‘Love Theme from “Spartacus”‘ . There are also a couple of genuine standards, ‘Time was’ and ‘My Foolish Heart’. Anyway, the end result is something very special, with Copland adopting an almost minimalist approach to his playing at times and going for overall effect rather than individual virtuosity. Gress is also in fine form, particularly on ‘Footprints’ and the trio as a whole (like EST) seem hell-bent on redefining what a piano-led trio can achieve. However, where EST pile on the arco bass and studio effects, Copland’s trio adopt a far more delicate approach which is nonetheless a pleasure throughout.