dtrcd123.jpg (35233 bytes)

Richie Beirach/Francois Moutin/Steve Davis - Explorations and Impressions


Richie Beirach - Piano, Francois Moutin - Bass, Steve Davis - Drums

1. Pendulum (10:59)
2. Blue & Green (8:17)
3. Softly As In A Morning Sunrise (9:07)
4. Elm (9:56)
5. Nardis (9:07)
6. Free/Stella/Solar (28:09)
Total Time (75:49)

Listen to CD Tracks

     A free flowing spirit of exploration permeates this daring trio session. From the opening, aggressive strains of Richie Beirach's "Pendulum" to the sublime reading of Bill Evans' fragile classic "Blue In Green," from a turbulent, radically reharmonized take on "Softly As In A Morning Sunrise" to a super sensitive rendition of Beirach's "Elm," there's magic in the room as pianist Beirach, drummer Steve Davis and bassist Francois Moutin give it up wholeheartedly to the muse. They stretch and converse freely on familiar vehicles like "Stella," "Nardis" and "Solar." And like the most intimate and animated conversations, the music here takes on a life of its own, following a natural arc toward some resolution that isn't quite known at the outset. And yet, all the participants are clearly on the same page.

    Records aren't made this way anymore. To have three musicians walk into a room and instantly begin to interact without ever having played together before, let alone having rehearsed any of the material, defies all the current marketplace wisdom in this very conservative time in jazz. But truth be told, this wasn't supposed to be a recording date at all. What was intended only as a casual jam in Steve Davis' home studio -- nestled in rural quietude between Hastings-On-Hudson and Yonkers just 20 minutes north of Manhattan -- became the CD you have in hand only because the drummer had the foresight to roll tape.

    As ringleader Davis explains, "Richie and I had talked no less than 20 times about playing together. Finally he called me one day and said, "Hey, bro', how come you haven't called me to play?" And I couldn't think of any reasons. So we arranged for a casual jam, just three or four hours. I had Francois Moutin come up and play bass. We're very good friends and he has a marvelous energy to play with, a great player. And Richie, needless to say, is Richie. I always wanted to play with him so it was just kind of inevitable that we did."

    As Richie matter-of-factly recalls, "It was a slow time in the winter, I wasn't doing anything and I felt like playing. So I went up there."
 Beirach had previously been up to Davis' Yonkers-based studio to play on a Conrad Herwig session for Double Time's New York Breed, so he was familiar with the studio and its seven-foot Steinway B piano. Davis engineered but did not play on that session. And his intentions for this jam with Beirach and Moutin were purely in the spirit of fun.

    "I told everybody upfront, 'Listen, this is just for a blast.' Part of my real agenda for that was I'm a firm believer in always playing with different people and not only in performance situations... just playing at home with your old friends and new friends. Some wonderful stuff happens and you experience that energy and you go on. So I rolled tape and went in and started playing. You can hear me actually walking by the piano and closing the control room door, sliding the glass door shut on the drum booth and the whole nine yards. And then we just started playing.  Nobody said squat about directing the music anywhere. It didn't matter."

    "We just hit it and it felt very good," adds Beirach. "And there were no takes because we weren't making a record. We just kept going. It was a very strange nonevent that was happening, and yet it was being documented. It was that 'one stroke concept' that Bill Evans talked about in the liner notes to Kind Of Blue. Not that this is in any way on the level of that, but it was definitely in that spirit."

    After entering the studio, Beirach sat down at the piano and started playing and the rhythm section eagerly jumps in. The first two tunes to emerge were a free form take on "Stella By Starlight" and a similarly expansive treatment of "Solar," underscored by Davis' interactive approach to the kit and culminating in a surprising New Orleans second line feel at the tag. "After that initial burst," says Davis, "we had a cup of coffee in the control room and were hanging out, laughing. That was the only break we had. Then Richie said, 'OK, what do you want to play?' I requested two of his compositions, 'Pendulum' and 'Elm.' And I told him, After that, I don't care. My Jones is covered."

    The three launched into an inspired version of "Pendulum," a Beirach piece based on an F# pedal that has been documented several times throughout his career (it was the title cut of an excellent 1978 Artists House record by Dave Liebman). Davis' own personal favorite version of the tune is from a Live at the Village Vanguard  recording with Liebman (on tenor), Beirach and trumpeter Randy Brecker. "Hearing that music touched me as deeply as Trane and Ben Webster and all the classics," says Davis. And it made me realize, 'This is how I want to play.'"

    As the jam progressed, they embraced Beirach's sparse, darkly beautiful ballad "Elm" (title track of his 1979 trio album on ECM). Bassist Moutin literally discovered the piece while playing it, as Davis explains. "Francois didn't know that tune and he didn't have a chart. You can actually hear Richie calling out the changes to him at one point. I tried to get rid of that but it's all so much a part of what happened."

    They approached "Blue In Green" with a kind of hushed reverence before  turning "Softly" on its head, recalling an arrangement from a 1984 Quest record with Beirach, Liebman, Al Foster and George Mraz. And they rendered "Nardis" with a kind of forceful attack that generates sparks.

    The result is 74 minutes of spirited music that bears repeated listening. "They're really long tunes and they're done in the way that people used to play... in depth, you know?" says Beirach of this highly empathic meeting. "There was a surge to it, a lot of forward motion. It reminded me of the way people used to get together and play in the '60s, for no other reason than to play. Not to rehearse, not to get paid, just to play. We just sat down and... bang!"

Thank goodness Davis rolled tape.

 -- Bill Milkowski/Jazz Times