The piano-bass-drums trio is the Swiss Army Knife of contemporary jazz: simultaneously a bastion of traditionalist impulses (whether in the form of Keith Jarrett’s superstar Standards Trio or your average cocktail-hour combo) and a force for change (Jason Moran’s Bandwagon, the Bad Plus or Medeski Martin & Wood, which began as an acoustic band). This week brings CD-release gigs from three established piano trios, each making its own case for the format’s wealth of potential.
Pianist Vijay Iyer’s crew is the most eye-catching of the three, a band that’s won wide acclaim for its creative approach to repertoire, which mixes pop covers with takes on obscure jazz treasures (the new Accelerando draws on both the Michael Jackson and Henry Threadgill songbooks). At its best, as on “The Star of a Story,” a 1978 deep cut by the London funk outfit Heatwave, the group rides stuttery hip-hop-inspired grooves to shimmering melodic peaks.
On its latest, The Guest House, Trio M—the collective of pianist Myra Melford, bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Matt Wilson—can sound either more playful than Iyer’s band (Wilson’s boppish, amiable “Don Knotts”) or more mysterious (the mournful Melford gem “Even Birds Have Homes [To Return To]”). Pianist Eri Yamamoto’s band, celebrating The Next Page this week, is the most approachable among this trio of trios, a group whose devotion to warm, evocative songs sans words seems, ironically, almost radical in comparison.—Hank Shteamer
The Vijay Iyer Trio plays Birdland Tue 10–Apr 14. Trio M plays Kitano Lounge Sat 7. The Eri Yamamoto Trio plays Cornelia Street Café Tue 10.
Follow Hank Shteamer on Twitter: @DarkForcesSwing