Surely one of the more popular trends in jazz for the last couple years has been the contemporary acoustic piano trio with its usual double bass and trap set rhythm section. Heavily influenced by the pioneering work of Esbjorn Sevensson and his trio, e.s.t., many of these groups feature a similar musical mix of modern jazz, indie rock and chamber-like early 20th century classical music. With a fair number of artists following more or less this formula, you would think that a certain sameness and lack of creativity would set in, but quite the opposite has happened with new piano trios springing up and challenging each other with fresh rhythms and creative virtuoso fusions of style on the piano. One of the more interesting entries into this competitive field is Pascal Le Boeuf and his latest album, “Pascal’s Triangle”.
“Triangle” opens with a couple of melodic rockin numbers that are heavily influenced by today’s plaintively emotional indie rock sound. Right off the bat Boeuf shows not only considerable technique, but also a unique harmonic language that is more abstract jazz than the more straight forward harmonies of many of his Contemporary contemporaries. Whereas many of today’s pianists favor the “pretty” side of Keith Jarret and Bill Evans, Boeuf also shows a fondness for Evan's thorny difficult abstract side too. The other big plus on the more energetic numbers is drummer Justin Brown, who displays a lot more abandon and aggression than what used to be associated with this sort of contemporary trio format. There’s a welcome wild scatter to his playing, which sounds like a cross between Keith Moon and Jack DeJohnette, and it brings a lot of warmth to a style that has been known in the past for being too formal. Third band member Linda Oh provides a solid anchor on the acoustic bass for the other two’s unpredictable flights.
Some other highlights on here include, The hand drum groove of "The Key", also “What Your Teacher…”, which features high speed drumnbass patterns and aggressive jagged syncopated piano work, and “Revisiting a Past Self”, the jazziest number that allows all the players the most freedom. Most of the rest of this album falls into more of a ballad type style. These contemplative tunes are nice, but this sound can be sort of a cliché amongst the contemporary piano trio scene and it’s a sound that has been done to death by those more prone to a mundane approach. To his credit, even on the expected somber numbers, Pascal continues to provide creative sounds.
There’s a lot of pianists out there doing that trio thing these days, along with Robert Glasper, Pascal Le Boeuf and his crew are one of the more interesting practitioners. Lets hope on future albums Boeuf includes more numbers that allow him and Justin Brown to really go off.