TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. In the 1990s, Jim Black was one of the busiest drummers in New York's downtown jazz scene playing behind saxophonist Tim Byrne and Ellery Eskelin and trumpeter Dave Douglas, among many others, and in the co-operative band Human Feel. Later, he began leading his own groups. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says Jim Black's current trio packs a punch.
(SOUNDBITE OF JIM BLACK TRIO SONG, "BLACK: CHINCHILLA")
KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: The Jim Black Trio's mix of big beats and accessible melodies owe something to the Bad Plus, one of the most influential jazz bands around who incidentally are still going strong with a new album of their own. But when the guys in that trio were coming up, drummer Jim Black was already slipping rockish beats under the jazz bands he played in. He gave those groups a distinctive jittery energy.
(SOUNDBITE OF JIM BLACK TRIO SONG, "SONG H")
WHITEHEAD: With their third album "The Constant." Jim Black's Trio comes into its own. The sound pops out of the speakers. His younger partners include bass player Thomas Morgan who knows his way around tricky piano trios and who gets a singing tone you can trace back to his early training on cello. Jim Black discovered pianist Elias Stemeseder later as a teenage prodigy in his native Austria, and two years later put him in this trio. Stemeseder may prepare his piano with foreign objects turning it into a percussion orchestra or he'll reach under the hood to mess with the strings by hand with the same sure timing he brings to the keyboard.
(SOUNDBITE OF JIM BLACK TRIO SONG, "BLACK: SONG O")
WHITEHEAD: The Jim Black's Trio doesn't only function in John Henry hammer-ringing mode. They can simmer down, too. The drummer likes nice tunes and knows to give them room to breathe.
(SOUNDBITE OF JIM BLACK TRIO SONG, "SONG E")
WHITEHEAD: The quieter numbers on "The Constant" include the one tune Jim Black didn't write, Jerome Kern's ballad "Bill" from the musical "Show Boat." It's restrained enough to put you in mind of Bill Evans' subtle piano trio.
(SOUNDBITE OF JIM BLACK TRIO SONG, "KERN: BILL")
WHITEHEAD: That's lovely and confirms these players are more than one-trick ponies. We all value variety after all. Still, Jim Black's Trio really comes alive when they amp up the rhythm. This band was born to groove.
GROSS: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure and TONEAudio and is the author of "Why Jazz?" He reviewed "The Constant," the new album by the Jim Black Trio.
(SOUNDBITE OF JIM BLACK TRIO SONG, "SONG M")
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