Walter Mencken 4 p.m., Dec. 14
Russell Bizzett Trio : "Dream Street" on CD-Baby!
North County drummer Russell Bizzett already has a long and storied career, having rose to prominence the mid 70s, when he toured and recorded with rock music legend Tommy Bolin, (Deep Purple, James Gang).
Along the way, he studied with the legendary jazz drummers Roy Haynes and Billy Higgins.
Dream Street, his debut as a leader, is a very strong effort utilizing the talents of pianist Joshua White and veteran San Diego bassist Rob Thorsen.
"So In Love," kicks off the disc, beginning with an ominous piano interval over the pinpoint cymbal articulations of Bizzett. Thorsen's bass sings a song of independence, almost to the level of counterpoint. After White cycles through the melody, Bizzett cranks the energy up with kaleidoscopic variations of the ting-a-ding-ting ride cymbal pattern, adding to the excitement with asymmetrical hi-hat hissing and cross-stick prodding. White's solo generally lights on a different path, mixing slightly dissonant colors while quoting "You Don't Know What Love Is," in the process. Thorsen is very creative, but sadly, buried in the mix. It's not possible to hear the body of his instrument, which is frustrating.
White re-imagines Red Garland's classic piano intro to "If I Were A Bell" with a few notes Red wouldn't have thought to include, over the insistent pedaling of Thorsen and Bizzett's crisp brushwork. When they break into 4/4, the drummer's cymbal pings drive up the swing factor to an ecstatic fervor. Rarely have I heard a record not on the ECM label that has recorded a ride cymbal so faithfully.
Of course, such clarity would count for nothing if the drummer weren't doing such creative things with it. You can hear the influence of Haynes, Higgins and Jack DeJohnette as well, in Bizzett's intricate subdivisions of time on his hand-hammered Turkish cymbals, (Supernatural's for you gearheads).
"Darn That Dream," opens with an unabashed lyricism from White that gradually morphs into one of those Hollywood "dream-sequence" effects for a moment. From there the pianist sets off nervous and disjointed commentary, perhaps indicating that dreams aren't always "sweet." Bizzett and Thorsen enter witth throbbing whole notes and sensitive brushes for a pure trio experience.
"Take The Coltrane," by Duke Ellington, ratchets up the ecstasy factor into the red-zone, fueled by Thorsen's muscular walking and the leader's percolating drum dialog. White lets long strands of melody fly off the keyboard-- then Thorsen and Bizzett trade "12's" between them.
The album ends with two glorious ballads, Duke's "In My Solitude" and Jimmy Van Heusen's "Polka Dots & Moonbeams."
"Solitude" draws its motion from the slow figure- eight brushstrokes of the drummer and Thorsen's singing bass soliloquy. There is a trio simpatico at work here that evokes the lyrical joy of the Bill Evans trio, circa the 60s Village Vanguard sessions.
"Polka Dots..." begins as a piano solo, full of depth and meaning, and when the bass and drums enter, a higher plane has been ascended. White is a monster pianist who manages to speak his expansive mind without ever overplaying, and the rhythm section shadows his every move like a security camera.
Dream Street is an impressive effort and deserves a wide audience. If the bass were recorded with the same degree of presence as the piano and drums, I'd give it five stars. As it is four will have to do.