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Upper Left Trio: Sell Your Soul Side

They are “upper left” because pianist Clay Giberson, bassist Jeff Leonard and drummer Charlie Doggett are based in Portland, Ore. On the evidence of Sell Your Soul Side, UL3 (as they abbreviate themselves) is interested in bringing current sensibilities such as rock and hip-hop into the jazz-piano trio format. This is an understandable motivation for a young band seeking an audience. UL3 has been preceded in this endeavor by trios who use pop elements to contemporize and expand the jazz language (the Bad Plus, Robert Glasper). Unfortunately, UL3 has more in common with bands like E.S.T., whose efforts to stay user-friendly to the nonjazz audience tend to dilute and trivialize the art form.

UL3 writes its own material, and all the trio’s tunes have singable melodies and catchy hooks and cute grooves. In its simple melodramas, the band does not so much tell stories as present soap operas. Pianist Giberson’s playing moves from one set of licks and conventionalities to another. When he finds a something he likes, he often stays and stays with it. “She Casts No Shadow” is almost nine minutes long, and “Comrade Camenzind” is 10. But what is extended in these pieces is playing time, not complexity or conceptual development or significance.

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