Review by Brad Walseth
Every once in a while I admit that I find myself in a bit of a rut with regards to piano trios. Not that I don't appreciate this type of combo: I do, but with such a glut of releases utilizing the standard bass, drum and piano configuration, it really takes something special to wow me. It might take something like an unusual trio set up (piano, drums & organ as on Bill Stewart's "Incandescence"), or interesting song choices (Ben Paterson's debut "Breathing Space") or strong compositions (Marc Copland's New York Trio Recordings, Vol. 2), and/or, of course, exceptional playing, especially ensemble playing gained from time spent playing together (like Keith Jarrett's "My Foolish Heart"). With this mindset, this new release from the Rave Tesar Trio was reluctantly entered into my CD player, but it hasn't left since. "You Decide" turned out to be truly pleasant surprise and frankly knocked me out with the excellent compositions performed with a high level of musicianship and uncanny band interplay.
The trio consists of pianist Rave Tesar and his brother Bill on drums. The interaction between the two siblings is nearly telepathic, while bassist Kermit Driscoll may as well be a third Tesar brother in that his perceptive playing is so in tune. The Tesars come from a musical family and both have serious experience to explain their serious chops. Rave is a composer of film and television music, who has also toured and recorded with Charlie Rouse, Steve Marcus and Dave Pike. Bill studied with Joe Morello (among others), played the club circuit leading his own band, was one of the youngest recipients of a National Endowment for the Arts jazz performance grants, and has performed with a slew of notables, including Vic Juris, Dave Douglas, Bob Berg and Angela Bonfil. Driscoll, a former student of Jaco Pastorius, has worked extensively with Bill Frisell, and has also toured and recorded with Chet Baker, Buddy Emmons, Mel Torme, John Zorn, John Cale, Ben Monder and Buddy Rich.
Rave Tesar composed all of the music on this recording and it is all first rate. "The Scale Song" starts things off brilliantly with a Brubeck-esque (at times), mainstream piece that seems to reference "Moon River." The exceptional band interplay between these three musicians is immediately apparent as both Bill Tesar and Kermit Driscoll work intimately with their leader to produce music as invigorating as it is melodic. In fact, this is one of the most melodically-minded rhythm sections you will ever hear and the songs swing like a porch swing on a summer night.
Of course, the first inference of influence would be the Bill Evans Trio, but that would be stating the obvious: that iconic group has influenced most modern piano trios to some degree. "Have Some More" sounds somewhat like '50s Coltrane (minus the sax) and both Tesars solo exuberantly. Pianist Tesar's expertise with the classical idiom serves the moody title track well, while he shows his straight-ahead chops on "Everyone But Me" and the bluesy "Nobody's at Nobody's." The haunting ballad "Someone Else's Spell" showcases bassist Driscoll on a tasty solo turn, while the wonderful "Minas" shows the trio taking on the Latin genre and running wild with it. "Helium" ends the album strongly and may be my current favorite of this compelling set.
For jazz fans of piano trios, or even those burned out on the genre, "You Decide" is an exceptional collection of inviting compositions, stellar playing and band interaction . But don't take my word for it, listen and you decide for yourself