The New Day Trio is Kevin Hays on acoustic piano, Rob Jost on bass and Greg Joseph on drums. North is their follow-up to last year’s New Day, but Hays lays off the vocals this time around and keeps guest artists at bay. It’s thus the first purely instrumental expression of this still-new lineup, and the project on which they find their footing.
Hays has been making records using various configurations for over two decades, but the trio format works especially well for him. He displays an intrepid spirit and a strong sense of harmonic and rhythmic initiative that is sometimes dulled when he brings others into the mix. Here, on a 10-track set-seven originals and three covers-he sticks to the basics, intent on avoiding repetition of mood, even if that means drastic juxtapositions. An opening take of Bird’s “Scrapple From the Apple” is attacked from a place where velocity and ferocity rule; “Elegia,” which follows, is tamer but no less edgy. Track three, “Violetta,” is sprightly yet august, while “Schumann’s Chamisso” draws on Hays’ love for the classics. There are times when one might question whether the same three musicians could have cut all of these tunes-which they did in a single day, incidentally-were it not for the telepathic rapport they so obviously share.
The album’s title is Hays’ nod of respect both to Harlem (which is, after all, in northern Manhattan) and his prior residence in upstate New York. It starts off feeling like the latter, serene and open; then an undercurrent of groove arrives that suggests the former. That Hays, Jost and Joseph instinctually understand the correlations and how to get from one to the other so seamlessly is why their union is such a welcome one.