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Larry Bluth/Don Messina/Bill Chattin: Five Concerts and a Landscape

These two CDs of live recordings represent a team approach in many respects, including the recording style: The masters were prepared using a stereo pair of microphones, and the full ambiance of the setting pervades each track. More importantly, the musical balance is a matter of the sensitivities of the musicians in the moment. Such a recording makes a statement as to the intentions of the artists that should not be ignored in assessing their work.

The results support the statement, though there are some side effects. The true stereo space of the sound seems to distance the listener from the action, countering in some measure the “you are there” immediacy of live recording. This may stem in some measure from the trio dynamic developed by pianist Bluth, bassist Messina and drummer Chattin: this is more an intellectual than a visceral music, played out on a landscape more notable for its color than for its contour. Messina and Chattin are solid and sensitive accompanists to Bluth’s elliptical probing, characterized by an intriguing, dancerly shuffle step that disrupts the steady pulse of the rhythm section. Bluth’s harmonic sense dominates the arrangements, creating shadows that seem to put even the most familiar chord progressions in a new perspective-an effect that’s heightened by the somewhat muted ambiance of the recordings. As to the material, Live at Orfeo is mostly original lines, Five Concerts mostly standards, but even the standards seem created to sustain the trio dynamic established in Orfeo’s opener: “Empathy.”

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