The L.A. Sessions-- Accidental Tourists

There have been a number of outstanding jazz piano trio releases in 2012, with some from familiar names like Chick Corea, Fred Hersch, and Steve Kuhn, and others from lesser-known pianists such as Markus Burger. The L.A. Sessions is the first of what Burger plans to be a series of recordings by his Accidental Tourists trio, with bassist Bob Magnusson and drummer Joe LaBarbera, and given their exquisite rapport one hopes that there will at least be a sequel. Burger is a German pianist who currently lives in Santa Monica, CA, and teaches at both Los Angeles City College and Fullerton College. He himself studied with, among others, John Taylor and Kenny Werner, and his playing shares the focused clarity of those pianists. The 2003 solo piano CD, Ultreya, might be seen as a precursor to The L.A. Sessions, but those who only know Burger from his Spiritual Standards projects, which explore religious music from the Baroque period, could be surprised by this modern mainstream trio outing.

"Grolnicks" is Burger's tribute to Don Grolnick, and captures that composer's often touching lyricism. Magnusson's bass solo is movingly heartfelt, and Burger follows him with a ringing, sweeping look at the theme. LaBarbera's drum work throughout is the essence of taste and finesse. The opening of "Air Canada" evokes a busy airport terminal, and then the soaring flight itself ensues. Burger's spiraling, riveting solo is enhanced by the supple power of Magnusson and LaBarbera. Once again, a short but substantial Magnusson improv is a high point. The pleasurable delicacy of Burger's closing figures seals the deal on this memorable piece. The luminous, wistful theme of "Black Sea Pearl" is articulated in deeply caring fashion by its composer Burger, and his solo floats gracefully through the well-conceived harmonic structure. The bassist and drummer accompany him with airtight cohesion.

Burger's reflective, resonantly attractive intro to his "Full Circle" leads to a more surging, assertive theme. LaBarbera's dexterous stick and cymbal work is most notable during this track, as is Magnusson's solo that sings out so eloquently. The drummer succeeds him with a boisterous statement of his own before Burger's succinct yet full-bodied recap. "I Loves You Porgy" is the first of three nods by Burger to his idol and strongest musical influence, Bill Evans, with Evans' final drummer, LaBarbera, along for the ride. Burger's initial melodic development is eerily reminiscent of Evans in tone, pace, and feeling, but his later rhapsodic variations are more personally defined. Magnusson's solo is heartbreaking in its emotion, while LaBarbera's brush accents are both precise and sympathetic. "Rodeo Drive Hustler" has an insistent, riffing theme that perfectly imagines an after hours L.A. street scene, and both Burger and LaBarbera play solos that sparkle with intensity and ceaseless momentum. A lot is said in just over three minutes.

"In Love In Vain" was recorded by Evans for his 1962 all-ballads Moon Beams album, his first after Scott LaFaro's tragic death. Burger's rubato intro is captivating, as is the subsequent trio treatment of the Jerome Kern standard. Burger's jaunt explodes with originality and true passion. Magnusson and LaBarbera then engage in a deceptively casual but perceptive dialogue prior to the pianist's lightly prancing reprise. The leader's "Inspektor Bauton" sounds like a Herbie Nichols tune in its playful mix of light and darkness, with the former here prevailing. Burger's solo scampers and glides with a reappearing vamp adding to its immediacy, and also serving as the basis for LaBarbera's masterful drum spot. For Nat Adderley's "The Old Country," Magnusson's booming bass, Burger's trickling piano, and LaBarbera's echoing brushes and cymbals create an atmospheric contrapuntal prelude to the eventual sharing of the theme by the pianist and bassist. Burger's lyrical improvisation draws out the tune's inherent strength and spirituality, and Magnusson's is both lithe and inspiring, while LaBarbera maintains a subtly stimulating undercurrent.

Burger's intro to the Bill Evans/Miles Davis "Blue In Green" possesses a Ran Blake-like dissonance and curiosity before giving way to Evans' manner of glowing melodicism. The rapt interplay between Burger and Magnusson on this interpretation compares favorably to that of Evans with LaFaro or Eddie Gomez, and the bassist's diversion is absorbingly potent. Burger's ending cadenza provides an alluring dose of rubato impressionism. "One World" is a work by German guitarist Thomas Hopf, which Burger admires for its "peaceful and holistic qualities." The tempo is certainly relaxed, as the pianist unwinds the endearing lullaby-flavored theme. Magnusson and Burger each produce solos that skillfully negotiate a fine line between restraint and forcefulness. Burger's "Morning Smile" emanates much of the same sensibility as "One World," but the brisker tempo ultimately sets it apart, as does the more animated, driving natures of the piano and bass improvs. For the last time, the trio members are heard breathing as one.

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Scott Albin