Swallow/Talmor/Nussbaum: Singular Curves

Tenor saxophonist Ohad Talmor calls bass guitarist Steve Swallow’s arrangement of “Carolina Moon” “deceptively complicated” and “challenging.” But to listen to the version of the 1920s chestnut on this album, there doesn’t appear to be anything complex about it. That’s not a put-down, either. Talmor, Swallow and drummer Adam Nussbaum negotiate this song in a way that feels both snaky and languid. They also make it sound like something current rather than something old and quaint.

Singular Curves might be spare in terms of instrumentation, but melodically the trio sounds extremely rich. All three of the musicians contribute tunes. Talmor’s “It Did” has an angular quality similar to Thelonious Monk’s “Evidence”; on it, Swallow and Nussbaum follow the saxophonist rhythmically before they break into a steady groove. The group suggests Paul Motian’s touch with the rubato flow of Talmor’s “Meli Melo.” Swallow plays especially nimbly on a take of Paul Bley’s “Ups and Downs,” walking and simultaneously adding harmonies under Talmor’s solo. Elsewhere Talmor takes a tip from his friend Lee Konitz, improvising on “You Go to My Head” nearly all the way through before deciding to play the head.

Although Talmor and Swallow began working together more than 20 years ago, this is only their second album with Nussbaum, following 2009’s Playing in Traffic. Making a trio sound full like this might be a challenge, but they never break a sweat. If “Carolina Moon” proves to be their toughest hurdle, they make it sound easy-and enticing to anyone who’s listening.