Steve Elmer Trio: Fire Down Below

Steve Elmer was originally a drummer. He took his first piano lessons from Lennie Tristano in the mid-1960s, when he was 25. Between 1976 and 1991 he stopped playing music professionally. Fire Down Below is Elmer’s fourth recording as a leader, and his second with his current trio (bassist Hide Tanaka, drummer Shingo Okudaira). He plays piano with the ferocity of a man with no more time to waste. He also plays piano like a former drummer. He sounds propelled by a powerful internal rhythmic engine.

Elmer studied with Tristano but did not follow his path. He is an unapologetically straightahead player whose first (and second, and third) priority is to swing his ass off. It is hard to think of a piano trio album less concerned with variety and sequencing. Fire Down Below is one burner after another.

Elmer wrote all 10 tunes. They are predictable but well crafted. (Horace Silver might have composed the funky, catchy “Big Chief Red Cloud.”) Elmer’s rhythm section is sharp and hot. “Tanaka’s Hideout” features the bassist’s slithering pizzicato and sweetly screeching arco, and is the freshest piece on the album. Both Tanaka and Okudaira are able to match Elmer’s frantic energy, no mean trick.