John Gross’ penchant for intimacy and wit by way of the trio format surfaces in a new group with pianist Dave Frishberg and drummer Charlie Doggett. The tenor saxophonist who startled people with his audacious avant-garde playing in Shelly Manne’s Outside quintet and the mainstream pianist who worked early on with Al Cohn and Zoot Sims meet on the common ground of an intriguing repertoire. Gross is as stimulating as ever in his calm delivery of solos that burn with convincing ideas. Frishberg is an ideal accompanist, a foil for Gross’ daring excursions, a soloist blessed with strength and whimsy.
The CD has tunes by Thelonious Monk, Al Cohn, Jack Sheldon, Miles Davis, Gary McFarland and Bob Brookmeyer, with a substantial helping of Ellington and Strayhorn. Gross and Frishberg solo brilliantly on “This Strange Feeling,” a rarely performed piece of Ellingtonia. In their reflective treatment of Monk’s “Ask Me Now,” Frishberg’s accompaniment often intertwines as a countermelody to Gross’ line. This collection will remind many listeners that Frishberg, the writer and singer of droll songs, is a pianist of skill and originality. The absence of a bassist is beside the point. Frishberg rarely uses walking bass chords; his left hand has more subtle ways of doing the job. Decades younger than his trio mates, Doggett is in the company of kindred souls. Together, these three have the zest of teenagers and the leavening wisdom of experience. This is a compelling program.