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Todd Coolman & Trifecta: Collectables

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Since piano trios are almost always led by pianists, it is reasonable to ask, “What is different about a piano trio led by the bassist?” Collectables is a textbook answer. Not that Todd Coolman is an overbearing presence here. He does not give himself an inordinate amount of solo space; he does not take credit for the arrangements (most are collective efforts by the trio); he composed only one of the 13 tunes. But pianist Bill Cunliffe continuously leaves little openings for Coolman, whose vigorous breaks, ardent interludes and intense solos always kick the trio forward. It is a crucial role in an album all about drive and exuberance.

Coolman also imprints his personality through his role as curator. He assembled some of his favorite songs into a diverse, stimulating program. There are classics like “We’ll Be Together Again” (pushed to a smooth glide) and “You’re My Everything” (also more buoyant than usual). “Prelude to a Kiss” shows that this trio can occasionally go pensive and thoughtful. Coolman’s yearning arco bass evokes the atmosphere, and his pizzicato solo deepens it. Most of the songs are ones you have not heard in a while but need to, and most swing infectiously because fast is this trio’s natural velocity; they include Ahmad Jamal’s “New Rhumba,” Bill Evans’ “Funkallero” and Victor Feldman’s “Joshua.”

Cunliffe knows his place here. He lets Coolman set the tone and energy level, then completes the design of every song with elegant technical precision. On this upbeat album, Cunliffe’s finest moment is the second ballad. “Isn’t It a Pity?,” a Gershwin song rarely heard today, is held carefully in his hands, then pieced out patiently, with wistfulness and longing. Collectables is a classy piano trio record.

If you can, call it a bass trio record

Originally Published