Squeezing four discrete sections into a 55-minute album is ambitious stuff, even if three of those sections are tributes to other pianist-composers. But with Life’s a Movie, pianist Bill Mays’ Inventions Trio, a quirky chamber group featuring trumpeter Marvin Stamm and cellist Alisa Horn, prove themselves up to it by end of the second track.
The track in question is “Interplay,” from the album-opening “Homage to Bill Evans” section. Horn opens the tune with cleverly plotted double-stops: one low note, one high, simultaneously evoking bassist Percy Heath and guitarist Jim Hall (from Evans’ original 1962 recording). Stamm and May follow her with impressive solos and then a spectacular duel. And that’s just the beginning; a scintillating “Waltz for Debby” comes soon after, featuring beautiful arco lines from Horn and a dancing collective improvisation from all three.
“Life’s a Movie,” the second (Mays-penned) section, is the centerpiece; subtitled “4 Cues in Search of a Film,” it duly evokes the flow and thematic architecture of film scores (especially the kinetic “Chase”). The disc’s highlight, though, is in the following, unnamed section: a Chick Corea homage, comprising his signature mash-up of Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez” and his own “Spain.” The latter features an endlessly fruitful Mays solo, with descending motifs and some rhythmic spanners-in-the-works, and a curvaceous bravura run from Stamm. Horn’s showcase is her 10 choruses of the closing Monk tribute’s “Straight, No Chaser,” on which she reworks some of Miles’ solos on the piece but also inserts her own expansive jazz vocabulary. Yes, it’s an ambitious, even sprawling disc, but a fine one.