AMP Trio started up in 2011, half accident, half destiny. We were deep in the throes of jazz school at the University of North Texas, ⅔ of us still teenagers and the influences were running absolutely rampant. We met in 2010 cutting our teeth in the hard-hitting fusion band Sky Window and at some point found ourselves in a classroom, an isolated rhythm section with acoustic instruments. We played a tune or two, as we surveyed the land we had not yet stepped foot on as a trio. Immediately the “magic” was evident and we cranked out an arrangement on the fly of Night and Day. At this point we could tell our influences were the same but it didn’t all line-up. Now, 6 years later we’re finally getting it all straightened out with this list of AMP Trio’s top 10 piano trios.
In no particular order:
Two Shade was an early influence for all of us. I always admired Gerald’s clever arrangements, with quirky rhythmic and harmonic ideas. Each musician plays with a high level of clarity that allows for a relaxed dialogue even amidst complicated material.
Check out: “All of You” from the album Two Shade.
Mulgrew Miller was a consummate accompanist and sideman, but his series of live trio albums from Yoshi’s and the Kennedy Center especially resonated with me. Alongside Derrick Hodge, the trios including both Kareem Riggins and Rodney Green swing relentlessly. Mulgrew has such a commanding feel, with vocabulary strongly rooted in the jazz piano lineage. He never shies away from digging deeper into a song, bringing to mind versions of “Joshua” and “If I Were a Bell.” The trio had a wide scope of repertoire too, from challenging originals to timeless standards.
Check out: “What A Difference A Day Makes” from the album Live at Yoshi’s, Volume One
Marc Cary Focus Trio
I continually come back to Marc Cary Focus Trio’s 2006 record, Focus. The group could be categorized by a modal sound with relatively simple compositions, but it’s the patience and honesty of the trio that makes the music so captivating. Sameer Gupta’s infusion of tabla adds another distinctive character. I’m struck by the meditative quality that permeates Focus Trio’s music.
Check out: “So Gracefully” from the album Focus
Oscar Peterson led two iconic trios, featuring either guitarist Herb Ellis or Ed Thigpen on drums alongside Ray Brown. OP’s trios collaborated to make legendary records with other artists from Sonny Stitt to Stan Getz, Clark Terry to Ella Fitzgerald to Louis Armstrong. The first record I heard from the Oscar Peterson Trio was Night Train, an album altogether infectious from beginning to end.
Check out: “C Jam Blues” from the album Night Train
Ray Brown Trio
Ray Brown Trio (Benny Green – piano, Ray Brown – bass, Gregory Hutchinson – drums)
Recommended album, Live at Scullers
This record was shown to me by Justin Varnes, an extremely influential person and musician in my life, when I was in my early high school career. Justin is the professor of jazz percussion at Georgia State University and is majorly responsible for my love of jazz and improvisational music. Live at Scullers is one of those records for me that I can sing every note of Benny Green’s piano solos, every eventful hi-hat splash and delayed release of tension from Greg Hutchinson, and revel in the deep pocket of Ray Brown. Jazz piano trio at its classiest and finest.
Aaron Goldberg Trio
Aaron Goldberg Trio (Aaron Goldberg – piano, Reuben Rogers – bass, Eric Harland – drums)
Recommended album, Worlds
Not only does this record feature some of my favorite rhythm-masters in general, but it’s one of the first records I obsessed over upon my “own” discovery. The aforementioned, Justin, introduced me to Eric Harland’s playing via Joshua Redman’s, Back East, (which is a whole blog post in and of itself) and I became enamored with the soulful yet illusionist quality with which Eric played the drums. It’s like I was hearing music for the first time. I had never heard someone be so elusive while maintaining the high level of support that rhythm players need to be aware of (Disclaimer: At the time, I didn’t know that’s what I was hearing… But hindsight is 20/20, right?). Obsession ran its course and Worlds is yet another sing-a-long.
The Bad Plus
The Bad Plus (Ethan Iverson – piano, Reid Anderson – bass, Dave King – drums)
Recommended album, For All I Care
My high school had a really big marching band (Georgia, you know). In the winter, we would move into “concert” mode: symphonic band, orchestra, percussion ensemble, a very music-friendly and supportive creative atmosphere.
A percussion teacher at the school, Mike Perdue (now a badass in the NYC forward-thinking percussion scene), introduced all of us to The Bad Plus. At this point, I had been doing some jazz homework and my progression of listening was “on track”… Much to the chagrin of my traditionalist inner ear at the time, Mike put on The Bad Plus’ rendition of the Aphex Twin song, “Flim”. Being also a huge D&B nerd, I had heart palpitations at the sound of the first notes… Familiarity and unfamiliarity striking in perfect synchronicity. I’ve been a die-hard fan of The Bad Plus since and even recently met Dave at the Jazz Standard after one of their last shows as the original line-up. Very kind soul and the music was perfect. Hat’s all the way off, gents.
Chick Corea, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs
This was one of the three first records I purchased. I devoured it over the many hours of solo driving to and from Ontario, on the way to golf, snowboarding or a gig. At one point, while listening to track one “Steps-What Was,” my highschool brain realized “oh s***, it’s a blues!” Besides the appeal of a challenge I was constantly discovering new material from each instrument with the help of a familiar context.
Brad Mehldau Trio
My freshman year roommate at UNT had mentioned Brad Mehldau here and there but had expressed that he couldn’t quite comprehend it, especially when he saw the trio live. A year later I bought his album House on Hill, an album of originals. I got about 3 tracks in before scratching my head in agreement with my roommates views on the artist. Another year went by and I gave the album another go upon recommendation of my next roommate. Not long into its rotation in my super cool Subaru six-disk player I realized something. Something about it hit me during the track “Bealtine,” definitely the rhythmic bounce but the harmonic peculiarities coupled with the melodic familiarity was something I had to investigate further. This opened the rotation for as much Brad as I could find, Anything Goes, Live, Art of the Trio, Ode. Though I don’t keep up the sheer number of hours listening the investigation persists today. I hear the trio is back in the studio this month!
Esbjorn Svensson Trio
This group crept into my life during a StarCraft bender with my first roommate. I’m going about building my base and the vibiest music was our sound system. A track, building from sounds of spacedust to a race off a mountain’s cliff, happened to be “Behind The Yashmak” from Strange Place For Snow. It was interesting to listen to this instrumentation but often in some sort of movie soundtrack context. I have a feeling the “pop” aspect of it may have hooked me faster than Chick or Brad’s music but I still felt like the music was being taken to similarly interesting places so I really didn’t even notice until way later.
It’s sad to know that he had passed way too early in life.
Who are some of your favorite trios or artists in general?
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