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Bill Mays Trio: Live at Jazz Standard

Bill Mays, a literate, polished, mainstream jazz pianist, likes to do concept albums (the best of which was An Ellington Affair, on Concord, 11 years ago). His new Palmetto release, his 14th as a leader, is not one-unless “cutting loose” is considered a concept.

It was recorded live at one of the most hospitable settings for jazz in Manhattan by one of the best engineers in the business, A. T. Michael MacDonald. Mays’ freedom to open things up comes from the trust engendered by playing with the same trio for six years, with articulate bassist Martin Wind and droll drummer Matt Wilson.

“Willow Weep for Me” is deconstructed and reconstituted in plucked piano strings (a device that Mays uses with rare musical expressiveness) and takes forever (about four minutes) to launch into a sprawling tour de force that lasts another six. Mays’ Monk tribute begins with a stream-of-consciousness medley of many Monkian melodies before settling on one, “Let’s Call This.”

Not many pianists could organize a journey from “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?” through Ornette Coleman’s “When Will the Blues Leave?” to Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile.” The witty and serious Mays nails all three, with major contributions from Wind playing arco, pizzicato and arco, respectively.

Originally Published