Bill Mays Inventions Trio finds intersection of chamber music, jazz
Review first appeared in Examiner Nov. 18, 2014.
It’s a shame this July 15, 2014 release on Chiaroscuro Records never received the acknowledgement Bill Mays and his Inventions Trio deserved. The inoffensive, ordinary CD cover doesn’t endorse the splendid music inside. Inside, pianist Mays, trumpeter/flugelhornist Marvin Stamm, and cellist Alisa Horn do so much with the classical/jazz art forms in a series of suites split into tributes to Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk, the soundtrack, and even a special rendition of Chick Corea’s “Spain.”
Recorded on May 7, 2012, Life’s A Movie exemplifies the marvelous things that can happen when the classical and jazz meet up. In lesser hands, the album could’ve easily gone wrong in any number of ways, boringly too classical, confusingly jazz, a multi-tiered vantage point of conflicting starts and stops. But look at the caliber of Mays and Stamm especially.
Besides considerable considered classical-jazz music, including a commission for the three-movement suite Fantasy For Cello, Trumpet & Piano — a precursor to this event, and a duo LP with flutist Bud Shank in the 1980 Concord Records release, Explorations, Mays comes from an established TV/movie background, and with a solid resume as sideman to the best in the business (Barry Manilow, Sarah Vaughan, Frank Zappa). You may have heard his music on Jay Leno’s talk show, Dallas, Gremlins, Interview With A Vampire, Rocky, Sleepless In Seattle.
“…whether playing Borodin or Bird, Bach or bop, the aim is to make the music come alive in a new way, find great melodies, be true to the composer’s underlying harmonic scheme, let the music swing, listen intently, play honestly, always honoring the rich traditions from which we’re drawing and building upon.”
Stamm, his musical partner on this gig, played on the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, the American Jazz Orchestra with pianist/composer John Lewis, and the Stan Kenton and Woody Herman Orchestras (as a trumpet soloist). He also backed Frank Sinatra.
Together, these jazz veterans make plenty of room for Memphis, TN native Alisa Horn, once the principal cellist of the Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra in the summer of 2006.
“Waltz For Debby” never sounded better. Mays just flies over the keys fluid and lithe as can be, Stamm deepens the melody on horns, and they open the doors for cellist Horn to skirt both issues into a crevice of ballet-like movements.
As beautiful as the trio of musicians sound under the Bill Evans material, they can turn on a dime and go charging into enveloping cacophonous territory with Monk’s stark, almost frigidly jagged “Straight, No Chaser.” Although, Horn does infuse quite a bit of old fashioned, music hall warmth, in the almost countrified lilt of her bow, as Mays throws down a little honky tonk and Stamm holds down the Monk form underneath.
Their cover of Chick Corea’s “Spain” is surprisingly dead-on, complete with tricky timing and three-part sutures — on the strength of Mays and Stamm’s precarious but confident lead. Mays makes bold, inventive choices the times he must solo through (well, this is Corea’s game). Horn knows when to accent, beautifying the angular, staccato runs. Stamm’s horn goes on into forever.
Check out “Life’s A Movie: 4 Cues In Search Of A Film.” Mays’ bass-like piano run in “Chase” is the stuff of legend.