The National Jazz Trio of Scotland

Standards, Vol. III

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Just as the Electric Light Orchestra wasn't an orchestra, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion isn't really a blues band, and the Foo Fighters don't actually fight foo, the National Jazz Trio of Scotland is neither a jazz combo nor a three-piece, but their third proper full-length, Standards, Vol. III, is certainly not a typical pop album, either. Led by Bill Wells on keyboards and electronics, the National Jazz Trio of Scotland delivers a set of spare but often lovely melodies performed in minimal fashion by Wells, using a palette of sounds that don't often resemble what one usually expects from a keyboard, with vocalists Lorna Gilfedder, Kate Sudget, and Aby Vulliamy singing softly but with genuine strength and power, both individually and in harmony. It figures that the songs on Standards, Vol. III aren't standards, either; the album includes nine original tunes written by Wells, and one cover that falls short of being a traditional favorite, though the Beach Boys' "With Me Tonight" certainly sounds sweetly comforting in this context. While there are moments when these songs sound so fragile you'd expect them to tremble in a breeze, the singers give this material a human touch that's honestly affecting and strong, and if none of them sound like virtuosos, their instincts about what to do with their voices are invariably correct, and the minimal accompaniment meshes beautifully, giving life to something that could easily have sounded mechanical on tracks like "Trying to Escape You" and "Surprising World." (There's also the playful surprise on one track where a full sampled dance band appears, much like a circus tent at the South Pole.) It's easier to say what the National Jazz Trio of Scotland are not than to come up with a simple generic cubbyhole for this music, but whatever you want to call Standards, Vol. III, it's beautiful and thoughtful work from musicians who remind us art can be stark and simple and still find ways to charm and move the listener.

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