Thursday, May 18, 2017

Billy Jones' 3's a Crowd on CD

When I first saw the title of this new Billy Jones CD, 3's a Crowd, I instantly thought of trios. Jazz trios. Drums, bass and piano. Drums bass and sax. And then I started listening to the opening title cut, with its beautifully recorded but suspiciously sparse arrangements and thought that something was missing. In this case it would be the upright bass or any other musical instrument that could join the sax and the drums. Because just the sax and the drums and nothing else, well that's...uh, a duo. Of course it's a duo and of course the phrase three's a crowd implies two is better.

I got all the way through this ten track CD before this idea occurred to me. Jazz duos.

Most of the jazz I listen to is from small ensembles--usually quartets, sometimes more, sometimes way more--but I've always thought that jazz and rock require three elements to keep everything in balance, just like the proverbial three-legged stool. Drums, bass and some sort of solo/lead instrument create the types of sounds that we best associate with a complete ensemble, therefore we can safely say that trios are about as minimalist as you want. Drummer Billy Jones came up with a different idea.

"This project, that I have been conceptualizing for years, places the drums in constant dialogue with one other instrumentalist. The challenge now--to raise the drums from its traditional role as accompaniment, to that of partner to that other voice."

Once you wrap your head around that idea, these ten tracks start to take shape. Jones enlisted help from a variety of musicians from both coasts in two different sessions. That means you get Jones' earthy and imaginative beats with George Young's alto sax or Mick Rossi's piano or George Genna's vibraphone or Scotty Wright's vocals or Gary Meek's bass clarinet or Kenny Stahl's flute. I think that's what makes this album so engaging--the constant shifts in tone and structure that the different instruments bring to the song. On an even deeper level, you'll notice how Jones adapts his own playing to the "personality" of that partner, that other voice. When you think of musical projects like this, you might think of a big star working with lesser stars who just do their best to keep up. But Jones is very generous with his guests and that warmth fills in the cracks of the spaces.

Again, this is yet another contemporary jazz recording on redbook CD from a small indie label (Acoustical Concepts) that sounds absolutely incredible. The space is immense, but the perspective is close. You can hear every little detail in Jones' drumming, which is necessary because he plays with so much subtext. It's a strikingly original album, and it's quite fun.

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