The jazz piano trio has been one of the great mainstays of jazz performance for decades. The first formation goes back to the mid-thirties, when pianist Clarence Profit formed a trio of piano, electric guitar, and bass upon his return to his native New York. Nat “King” Cole formed a West Coast version of this trio format soon after. (And it truly was a trio format, as this was years before the man known for his excellent crooning began to sing.)
In the mid-forties Erroll Garner replaced the guitar with drums, a configuration that has been the standard format, with a few exceptions, since then. Ideally suited to small clubs and restaurants, the piano trio has remained popular for listeners. The format is also enjoyed by the musicians, as the format fosters intense interplay among the three artists and allows for a great deal of freedom of expression.
One of the latest additions to the jazz piano trio is San Diego’s Lower Left. Though this trio of bassist Bill Andrews, pianist Mikan Zlatkovich (profiled in this month’s cover story), and drummer Barry Farrar have performed as a unit for at least the last ten years, they have just released their first CD Just Sayin’. This collection of eight jazz standards and one original composition is a welcome addition to our collection of local jazz recordings.
Known for his great tone and sense of time, Bill Andrews is one of San Diego’s finest jazz bass players. In a trio setting, the bass has the difficult job of establishing the musical foundation by providing the backbone of the rhythm and laying down the outline of the chord changes. The bassist performs this all the while adding rhythmic and harmonic drive and interest. It sounds like a difficult job, but Andrews performs his role to a fare-thee-well. He is an excellent soloist as well, expressively utilizing the full range of the bass. I also like the manner in which he incorporates double stops in some passages.
Anyone who has ever spent time listening to KSDS, San Diego’s only local jazz radio station, has heard “Percussive Profiles,” the program hosted by Barry Farrar. Any listen to his show demonstrates the capabilities and power that drums and percussion have in the jazz art form and how essential they can be to an ensemble. Farrar, who has performed with a number of ensembles, plays here with verve, exhibiting a great deal of interaction with Andrews and Zlatkovich.
Like Bud Powell or Oscar Peterson, Mikan Zlatkovich can power away, note after note, on the keyboard. Musical ideas flow from him one after another. He plays on this disk with a great deal of energy and power.
Locally recorded at RAJ Studios, Just Sayin’ fully captures the dynamics of the drums and piano, particularly the rich sounds of the piano’s bass notes. Andrews’ bass is also full and well defined in the recording.