Keystone Trio

Newklear Music

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For this 1997 release, the Keystone Trio focuses its refined elegance on Sonny Rollins the composer. While not principally known as a writer, but rather as a remarkable improviser and interpreter of standards and bop classics, Rollins has written dozens of originals over the decades. Other than "Airegin," none of Rollins' best known pieces, such as "Doxy," "Oleo," "St. Thomas," or "Blue Seven," are presented here. Instead, pianist John Hicks, bassist George Mraz, and drummer Idris Muhammad mainly explore items from the saxophonist's Milestone releases from the '80s and '90s, along with some from mid-'50s Prestige dates. The trio's approach is to draw out the melodic and structural substance of each piece, casting them in a light that has more in common with the grace of the Bill Evans Trio than with Rollins' often challenging and provocative soundscapes. Although the performances at times lack character, this classy piano trio does provide a fresh perspective on Rollins' music. Mraz has several solo spots and emerges as the most distinctive voice on the set. Hicks, flawless although occasionally faceless, could have benefited from a few more unbridled moments. Muhammad is suitably understated but still active and energetic. Chip Stern's liner notes offer illuminating commentary from Hicks and Rollins. Hicks confirms the trio's purpose was to find its own, not necessarily Rollins-esque, groove, while Rollins claims not to consider himself a composer, but rather a "soloist who writes lines for my soloing."

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