Eliminate the drummer from a piano trio and you get subtler textures and more open spaces and extended opportunities for individual expression, especially from the bassist. Harold Danko is a known quantity, a complete pianist of remarkably consistent creativity. As for bassist Ron McClure, there may be some who lost track of him 40 years ago, when Charles Lloyd broke up his first quartet. He is excellent on Wonderland—as composer of fresh, quiet melodies, as co-equal voice in this smallest of collectives, and as probing soloist.
The program is diverse, but pursues a single purpose of thoughtful exploration. Benny Carter’s title track is gently exuberant. Danko’s one contribution, “To Start Again,” is a counterpoise of poignant descents and hopeful ascents. “Nardis” is done in reverse. All the free fragments and disassociative chords and abstract clusters and trills come first, and the fanfare of the theme comes at the end. “Stella by Starlight” undergoes a similar but even bolder inversion. Danko does not so much play it as bury it in loosely related variations. Only at the end does he explicitly acknowledge “Stella,” in quick, almost perfunctory gestures. “Beautiful Friendship,” on the other hand, is an overt celebration of a celebratory song, McClure in charge.