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Marc Cary: Trillium

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When was the last time a piano trio record grabbed you by the lapels, faced you forward, demanded you put down that cocktail and screamed “Listen!” Marc Cary’s Trillium is no mere background music. Backed by one of the best young rhythm sections in jazz-bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits-Cary’s Trillium is his finest work yet.

From the radical, slugging version of Duke Person’s “Minor League”-the trio turns it into a muscular, tense throbber-to Cary’s lush but edgy solo piano version of his mentor Abbey Lincoln’s “My Love Is You,” the keyboardist is an excellent interpreter, easily adapting others’ songs to his exploratory style.

Cary moves beyond the AABA form, in favor of open-ended expositions where the burden for success is on group interplay. The trio-written title track begins as a misty ballad, but with Mateen’s thick, melodic, note-bending basslines urging the song to darker waters, “Trillium” moves into controlled exhilaration-Waits shifts sublimely around his drums with delicacy and power-before the song finally descends and gently dies.

Miles Davis’ early bop number “Little Willie Leaps” shows the band can joyfully swing in a tight, punchy, Bud Powellish manner, but the trio is most remarkable when it cuts loose, as on Cary’s “Moment of Love.” The song begins in a standard post-bop manner, but Waits gradually bashes his kit with more and more power as Cary and Mateen stay their steady course. Eventually the other guys quit and Waits blasts off with a solo so animated it’s easy to imagine his four limbs maniacally dancing across the drums. The minute long solo is then faded; Waits could play forever. The next song, “King Tut’s Strut,” features a fade in-a nice touch-with Waits clicking a Caribbean rhythm on his kit. Flutist Yarbrough Charles Laws, Cary’s frequent collaborator, joins the trio on “Strut,” one of the album’s most bluesy, spirited tracks, and another showcase for Waits’ energetic stickwork.

Trillium is one of the most sonically engaging, expertly played CDs this year.