Guilhem Flouzat, 32, is a different drummer. His third album as a leader is a radical move. He plays songs you know. Almost no one in the new jazz generation does that. They all think they are composers.
Flouzat’s strong previous recording, Portraits, was much more typical. It contained his originals exclusively. Therefore you are caught off guard when A Thing Called Joe opens with “There’s No You,” composed by Hal Hopper in 1944 and made famous by Frank Sinatra. You wait for this contemporary version to become ironic, but it doesn’t. The wistful melody is lovely, and pianist Sullivan Fortner revels in it, albeit percussively. Then he imposes his own free variations upon it and weaves long counterlines through it. As with many young players from New Orleans, Fortner’s fresh creativity sounds grounded in tradition.
Flouzat leads this piano trio from behind. He has a subtle touch but always imprints himself on the music, sometimes subliminally. He and bassist Desmond White conjure an undercurrent of stealth rumba that pulls against “When I Fall in Love.” Keith Jarrett, who knows a thing or two about reimagining standards, often does Victor Young’s greatest tune as an encore. The interpretation here is very different. Fortner marks out the melody in irregular shapes, in a hard, edgy iteration of lyricism. Flouzat’s trio views the song from a current vantage point but preserves its poignant avowal of faith.
Probably not many jazz players under 40 care about “Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe.” Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg wrote it in 1943. Flouzat’s trio plays it almost straight, in a gentle throb, as a lilting affirmation. Because we live in troubled times, nostalgia calls to us; it fills a need. But all times are troubled. Unsentimental expressions of actual happiness never go out of style.