Emmet Cohen knows he still has a lot to learn and, accordingly, the pianist—a former prodigy still under 30—surrounds himself with those who can teach him. This new trio recording features bass totem Ron Carter, 81, and follows a similar session that spotlighted drummer Jimmy Cobb, another octogenarian. Cohen, who’s already got a shelf’s worth of awards for his mature and insightful playing, has also spent time in the company of such relatively elder statesmen as Christian McBride, Herlin Riley, Brian Lynch and Ali Jackson, in addition to leading his own trio and serving as an educator.
Musicians of that caliber wouldn’t readily commit to working with someone who had nothing to offer in return, and Cohen’s skill on his instrument is matched by his inventiveness. His mastery of mainstream-jazz language and his wide-ranging technical facility are pronounced on this set that mixes standards from Cole Porter and Artie Shaw with Carter originals and a traditional Jewish prayer, “Hatzi Kaddish,” arranged for the session by Cohen and drummer Evan Sherman. The lattermost is introduced solo by Cohen, who conveys the requisite solemnity, then turns suddenly joyful, even festive. The trio runs with the melody, Cohen and Carter offer the floor to Sherman, and the band brings it home on a high note.
If there’s a single standout though, that would be the four-part tribute to Cedar Walton: the late pianist’s “Hindsight,” “Holy Land” and “Dear Ruth,” capped by the bassist’s “It’s About Time,” a tune Carter performed with Walton. Shifting moods seamlessly, Cohen evokes the spirit of the medley’s inspiration without getting stuck in quotes from the source. With Carter and Sherman pushing the music this way and that, Cohen masters the difficult task of stating his reverence while maintaining a wholly original approach.