Jimmy Lyon's incredible drummer, Paul Murphy, was the catalyst for this session. He brought the blues-steeped improvising cellist, KashKillion, to the studio. Larry's always selfless accompaniment draws three great players into a tight, exciting trio sound. They breathe new life into jazz classics like "Soul Eyes", "Summer Serenade", and "Little Melanie"-while beautifully exploring the cello's myriad voices.
1. Summer Serenade -Listen to Full Song
2. Soul Eyes -Listen to Sample
3. Sunshower -Listen to Sample
4. Little Melanie
6. Poor Eric
Often associated with classical music, the cello hasn't played a prominent role in jazz. Nonetheless, cellists ranging from Erik Friedlander to Missy Hasin have demonstrated that it has tremendous possibilities as a jazz instrument. And on Sunshower, cellist Kash Killion does his part to help Larry Willis deliver another excellent CD. Willis gives Killion plenty of room to stretch out, and that's a very good thing, because not only does Killion have a gorgeous sound, he is also an incredibly lyrical and expressive player. Willis and Killion enjoy a strong rapport throughout the album, which employs Steve Novosel on acoustic bass, Paul Murphy on drums, and Steve Berrios on percussion. Sunshower isn't the sort of album in which the musicians spend their time showing us how fast they can play Sonny Rollins' "Oleo" and John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" — this post-bop CD is about expression and emotion rather than pyrotechnics, and Willis and Killion are at their most introspective on performances of Mal Waldron's "Soul Eyes" and Kenny Barron's "Sunshower." While these jazz standards have been recorded many times, it isn't every day that they become vehicles for inspired acoustic piano/bowed cello interaction. Equally compelling are soulful versions of Willis' "Poor Eric" (a somber lament for reedman Eric Dolphy) and Jackie McLean's "Melody for Melonae," which Mapleshade incorrectly lists as "Little Melanie"). But "Melody for Melonae" is definitely the correct title of this piece, which appeared on McLean's 1962 Blue Note date Let Freedom Ring — and which shouldn't be confused with the altoist's 1955 recording " Little Melonae" (although he wrote both songs for his daughter Melonae McLean). Willis detours into mildly avant-garde territory on the African-influenced "Wah-No-Nahné," but, for the most part, the musicians stick to inside playing on this consistently thoughtful CD. -Alex Henderson
This disc will immediately evoke those classic Bill Evans trio albums (with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian). Here is group interplay at is very best. Larry Willis has — like Evans — the light touch and the selflessness to illustrate that the whole is often worth much more than the sum of its parts.
Now, before you go dismissing this as just another piano jazz trio recording (as I almost did), and thereby depriving yourself of some superb music, consider that instead of that hoary old piano/bass/drums combo, Willis uses piano/cello/drums on Sunshower. Ah ha, I hear you saying, a truly different voicing to the trio setup. And therein lies the tale of this recording.
Willis, Kash Killion (on cello) and Paul Murphy (on drums) — aided or replaced on three of the tracks by Steve Novosel on bass and Steve Barrios on drums — sound as if they have been playing together all their lives. There is a feeling of effortlessness to their musicianship that allows you to fall right into the music and not come up until the last chord dies away. The comparisons to the Evans trio are almost automatic. However, Evans never received the sonic treatment Willis gets from Mapleshade.
Wait until you hear how well Pierre Sprey has captured the unique sounds of this trio. The startlingly clear window into the sound of each instrument allows all of the cohesiveness between the musicians to shine as it seldom has before. You hear Willis’ piano, clearly the percussive instrument it is, front and just to center left. Killion’s cello is to the right and Paul Murphy’s drums are rear right center. Novosel, when he’s present, is to the rear left. It’s the cello that gets top sound here. Its richness and smoothness, compared to an acoustic bass, is precisely caught, whether it’s being plucked or bowed. And when Novosel’s playing bass, one gets a chance to hear the size difference between the two instruments. Murphy’s cymbals shimmer and float (a Mapleshade trademark) on a bed of air as clearly as the real thing. The sticks recoil off the drumheads in an almost palpable manner, and when Murphy pulls out the brushes, well, you can even tell which way he’s moving them.
Willis, especially here on Sunshower, sounds exactly as I would picture a formally trained classical musician would when playing jazz. (Not a big surprise when you consider Willis is a classically trained pianist, who ran afoul of the obstacles confronting an African/American in the classical field.) And perhaps that’s the biggest problem I had with Sunshower, it’s almost too formal. There are times when I wished Willis would let go of his training and just play. But then, this selfsame critique was leveled at Evans too, and he didn’t have such a bad career.
And it’s precisely that Evans-style group telepathy that raises this disc from merely just another piano trio session to one with long-term listen potential.
Larry Willis has been overlooked far too long. By all rights, he should be included among today’s pantheon of great jazz pianists. Maybe it’s all the work he does as A&R man for Mapleshade, or perhaps it’s his egoless style of playing, I don’t know. But whatever the reason, it’s a crying shame. Sunshower demonstrates just how good a jazz musician he is. He really shines in this trio setting, without ever eclipsing his bandmates. It is probably this selflessness that is not only his biggest asset, but his largest bête noire.
If you crave the sound of the jazz piano trio, in the classic Bill Evans sense, but with better sound, Sunshower is for you. Recommended. -John Crossett