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Russ Lossing: Folks (Sunnyside)

A review of the pianist's audacious trio album

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Russ Lossing: Folks (Sunnyside)
The cover of Folks by Russ Lossing

The inner sleeve of pianist Russ Lossing’s latest CD quotes from three very diverse characters—Louis Armstrong, Béla Bartók, and Friedrich Nietzsche—all weighing in on the topic of folk music. Armstrong’s quote is perhaps the best known: “All music is folk music. I ain’t never heard a horse sing a song.” The idea behind including the statements, and calling his new album Folks, one supposes, is to impress upon the listener that Lossing sees this collection of eight numbers as a universal music. Song titles such as “Village Folk,” “Country Folk,” and “Mountain Folk” reinforce the premise.

But don’t go into it thinking you’re about to hear some troubadour strumming an acoustic guitar and singing plaintively: This is audacious piano trio music, a sequel to Lossing’s 2021 Metamorphism. From that set, the pianist retains bassist John Hébert and drummer Michael Sarin. Also retained is the improvisational, open-ended nature of the collaboration.

If there is an obviously folkloric component, it’s in the trio’s willingness, and ability, to state a simple melody, one that at times strikes the listener as familiar (if not quite specifically so), and venture together to places unknown. While there are suggestions of connections with other world cultures in some of the stated melodies, and in its colloquial nature, by the time the trio has gotten full hold of an idea, it has already transcended its source.

Of the pieces with the word “folk” in their title, the 11-minute “Country Folk” is both the most basic and most stimulating. Just past midway, the bassist and drummer go deep into a primal mode, while Lossing scampers in a delightfully shambolic manner. But just as thrilling is the much more compact “Lightning Bug,” in which the trio flits about giddily, restless and carefree.

Learn more about Folks on Amazon, Apple Music, and Barnes & Noble.

Jeff Tamarkin

Jeff Tamarkin on social media

Jeff Tamarkin is the former editor of Goldmine, CMJ, Relix, and Global Rhythm. As a writer he has contributed to the New York Daily News, JazzTimes, Boston Phoenix, Harp, Mojo, Newsday, Billboard, and many other publications. He is the author of the book Got a Revolution: The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane and has contributed to The Guinness Companion to Popular Music, All Music Guide, and several other encyclopedias. He has also served as a consultant to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, NARAS, National Geographic Online, and Music Club Records.