The Yes! Trio Reaffirm Themselves at the Jazz Standard
The Yes! Trio with Aaron Goldberg on piano, Omer Avital on bass and Ali Jackson on drums have a new album just out on Sunnyside. Last night they played the first of their two record release shows for it at the Jazz Standard – if melodic jazz that’s equal parts wit and chops is your thing, you should see their show tonight (sets are at 7:30 and 9:30 PM). Avital and Jackson have a long history together since their days as young lions of the scene that coalesced around Smalls in the early 90s and re-energized jazz in this city, so they have a good idea of when the other’s punchlines might be coming – Avital tends to be the scene-stealer here but not always. Goldberg’s role in this tends to be a raised eyebrow, “I know what you’re up to back there,” although he’s not above leaving the gravitas behind and flying off with the rest of the crew, typically when least expected. Their camaraderie can be friendly, or droll, and it’s steeped in years of experience in a vast range of styles (the last time we caught Avital, he was playing a Paul McCartney model bass guitar, and then oud, in an Israeli rock band).
Their show last night was bright, bristling with energy and electric with anticipation. They opened with an expansive modal blues titled Mohammed’s Market, Goldberg holding it together with clenched-teeth composure, Avital taking the first of several tongue-in-cheek solos spiced with brief flashes of standards, cheesy pop songs, “charge” motifs and pretty much anything else he could scrape up in a flash, bending his high strings with a bluesy, guitarish grin. Goldberg related how they’d just written the song hours before, Avital singing the melody to the band rather than handing out charts: “As you can see, we don’t usually have music to go from,” Goldberg deadpaned. Jackson explained later in the set how he’d inspired Avital to write it: years ago, the two were touring the former East Germany a couple of years after the Berlin Wall came down. Fast food and vending machines had yet to make it into the train stations there, so “If you didn’t have breakfast, good luck!” he explained. Fortunately, he had a local to visit – an aunt – who took him out to stock up on snacks. On the train the next day, Jackson opened his suitcase for some munchies, causing one of his jealous bandmates to ask, “What’s that, Mohammed’s Market?”
They swung the next tune with a similarly bluesy edge, Avital taking another lengthy digression. The jazz waltz El Sol maintained a suspenseful vibe, straight through a whispery, conspiratorial outro. They hit their lone cover of the evening, Epistrophy, hard, matter-of-factly Monk-like, not wasting any time. Goldberg drew them out of yet another heavy-lidded, gleeful Avital solo with a build to a breathtaking, cascading, ringingly chromatic run up and then down again, which drew the loudest applause of the night. Their final number, Flow, was based on changes to Giant Steps. Finally, after an entire set of urbane elegance, Jackson put that approach down for good and rode the rims til the second verse, galloping and carnivalesque, with an interlude where he hit on the “one” in an attempt to out do Avital at the vaudevillian game. When he straightened out, he was still spotting random Kenny Washington-style off-beat accents to keep everybody on their toes – including the audience. A little later on, Goldberg let out a yell as the band went doublespeed, punching out the seemingly endless series of expanding intervals with triumphant precision. What these guys really ought to do is one of those “live at the Jazz Standard” albums like the Mingus Orchestra did a couple of years ago: the pristine sound and the band’s lively fan base would only enhance it.
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