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Friday, May 9, 2014

Danny Fox Trio - Wide Eyed (Hot Cup, 2014) ****

By Antonio Poscic

Wide Eyed by the Danny Fox Trio (hailing from NYC) turned out to be one of those delightful, rare surprises for me: an unexpectedly delicious record. When I first listened to this album, I had no particular expectations. I wasn’t acquainted with the work of any of the members and some of the short samples I had heard sounded somewhat unremarkable. This is why the experience of discovering this album’s numerous and wonderful layers was so great when I finally listened to it in full.

In this age where “constant” groups are hard to find and where collaborations are often one-offs, this trio is an exception. It is a band whose members spend a considerable amount of time working and playing together. This fact is clearly reflected in their music by providing a combination of relaxed playing, cohesiveness, and improvisational energy. It might feel like the Danny Fox Trio is taking the traditional notions tied to the jazz trio, deconstructing them, and combining all the resulting elements in a novel way. Like pieces of a well-known jigsaw puzzle put back together in a surprising and unconventional way. The described approach taken on Wide Eyed means that Danny Fox and his associates do not revolutionize the format of the jazz trio as much as they refine it, make it easily recognizable. Or, in other words, they make it their own. You can hear the musicians’ personalities imprinted in each played note, both in the tenacious and more restrained moments, whether providing a backdrop for the other players or while soloing. Make no mistake, the music on this release is carefully thought out, carried on by the almost perfect performances of all members of the trio. At the same time, there are influences from a variety of genres infused on this album and stylistic elements are exchanged often enough to make the whole endeavor simultaneously very catchy and gleeful, often euphonic. Some compositions even feel architected as chamber music pieces, which is not all that surprising given the backgrounds of the musicians. Pianist Danny Fox, bassist Chris van Voorst van Beest, and drummer Max Goldman are all experienced and well versed in a variety of genres, including classical music. The combination of chamber music and jazz can be tricky to perform successfully, but this kind of fusion works quite admirably on this record.

While it is hard not to see Danny Fox as the star here, it must be said that all the band members get ample space to prove their musicality and virtuosity. Fox’s style often sounds like an amalgamation of various pianists and piano playing techniques. His style sounds familiar, yet it is exquisitely innovative and fresh, sometimes almost romantic and tastefully grandiose. Controlled and soft on slower compositions, never overwhelming during more energetic passages. It is interesting to point out that I could see this material functioning as the foundation of a solo piano album. The other two members of the trio do not lag far behind Fox. The bass goes beyond the duties of providing rhythm and often serves as vessel of melodic progression. The drumming here is also very strong, with Max Goldman allowing himself to explore patterns not innate to jazz. Besides being a pianist of great technical ability, Fox proves to be a proficient composer as well. Wide Eyed features all original compositions, tailored to the strengths of the trio. The first part of the album, fronted by the introductory “Sterling” and its slowly evolving and mutating flow, the very interesting and tangled “Bonkers” and droning “Drone”, is more varied, energetic and of higher tempo when compared to the rather restrained and mellower second and final group of songs, with standouts being the title track “Wide Eyed” and its brooding mood and “Confederates” which sounds like an interpretation of a threatening march. All compositions are equally compelling and enjoyable, tied to strongly defined motifs and evolving themes, making the album a success when considered as a whole.

This is music that is hard not to recommend to… everyone, actually. Whether you are a fan of traditional jazz looking to explore something new or a seasoned, adventurous explorer of all the exciting facets of jazz, Wide Eyed contains aspects and sensibilities that should appeal to you. Thoroughly worth a listen!