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Limitless-- Stranahan / Zaleski / Rosato

One of the best piano trio jazz releases in recent memory is this cooperative venture from pianist Glenn Zaleski, bassist Rick Rosato, and drummer Colin Stranahan. Their second CD (after Anticipation in 2011) displays the trio's exceptional intuitive interaction, as they continually challenge themselves and each other, and never come close to going on auto pilot over the course of eight stimulating originals and one Thelonious Monk tune. Most important is their distinctive approach, which makes it impossible to pigeonhole them as a direct imitator of any other better-known piano trio, be it Brad Mehldau's, Keith Jarrett's, or Fred Hersch's. Now Brooklyn-based, Stranahan and Zaleski met at the Brubeck Institute in California, before hooking up with the pianist's friend Rosato in New York, who got them their first trio dates in his native Canada. Stranahan, the third place finisher in the 2012 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Drums Competition, has three CDs under his own name, and plays with guitarists Kurt Rosenwinkel and Jonathan Kreisberg, the latter with Rosato on board as well. Zaleski has been heard with guitarist Lage Lund and 2013 Monk Saxophone Competition winner Melissa Aldana.

The title tune, "Limitless," is the opener. Zaleski plays a catchy staccato left-hand motif initially, over which he introduces a stair-stepping tone row that serves as the complementary theme. His solo and the support of Rosato and Stranahan skillfully milk the thematic material for all it's worth both harmonically and rhythmically, in never less than absorbing fashion. The second Zaleski piece, "Cyclic," also begins with an engaging motif, this time with Rosato executing the introspective, stabbing theme, then seconded by the pianist. Stranahan's driven drum work, and Rosato's emphatic bass lines elevate Zaleski's ever-building solo flight, only making the diminuendo of the reprise that much more satisfying. Monk's "Work" is given a straight ahead interpretation, graced by the nuanced clarity of the rhythmic framework set by Rosato and Stranahan. Zaleski's improv patiently probes the harmonic structure in a refreshingly personalized manner, not aping Monk's style in the least. His trades with the drummer exhibit their well-honed rapport.

The staggered, no-frills theme of Rosato's "Migrations" inspires compelling solos from all three participants, with Stranahan's over a looping construct from Zaleski. The bassist's intro to his own "Vio" possesses the sound quality and dramatic presentation of one Jimmy Garrison, and leads to the stirring bittersweet melody as unfurled by Zaleski, who adds impressionistic embellishments in his succinct solo. Rosato's surging walking bass line gives way to Zaleski playing the enticing circular theme of his "Forecast," but the bassist resumes his stroll for the pianist's sparkling stop-and-start excursion. Stranahan's tasteful yet restlessly inventive workout nicely sets up Zaleski's recap.

"Motian Sickness" is Stranahan's dirge-like tribute to drummer Paul Motian, and the composer's bustling percussion adds a tense undercurrent to the spare theme and Zaleski's refined elaborations thereof. Think Billy Strayhorn's "Blood Count" to get an idea of the effect this ultimately faded-out selection has on the listener. Rosato's "Rock Song," with its sparse, spiky line, is highlighted by yet another exhaustive but not exhausting perusal by the committed and perceptive Zaleski. Stranahan's declaration is also a story well-told, and with assured flair. "Chorale (for Fred Hersch)" captures Hersch's spiritual side, what with a pensively eloquent melody that is expanded upon with openhearted lyricism by first Rosato and then its writer Zaleski.

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Scott Albin