Secret of Life
Produced by:Harvey Jay Goldberg Recorded at:Sound on Sound Studios, New York, NY
The music performed by the Contempo Trio on its debut CD, Secret Of Life, isn’t all that surprising, at least not on one level. After all, it almost goes without saying that when three seasoned jazz musicians with complementary tastes and talents collaborate on their own terms, the results are likely to be worth savoring. And when those three musicians are pianist Mark Soskin, bassist Chip Jackson and drummer Danny Gottlieb – longtime friends with parallel careers as distinguished and much sought-after sidemen – attaining a level of artistic quality several notches above the norm is pretty much a lock.
Yet the music found on the trio’s latest release isn’t merely inspired. In a peculiar yet delightful way the performances sound almost inevitable, as if this rare collaboration was simply meant to be. It’s hard to nail down just why that is, but whether you attribute the ensemble’s unmistakable chemistry to trust, intuition or common experience, one thing is certain: it couldn’t seem more natural.
No doubt the lost art of listening is also big factor here, listening as only musicians who’ve spent most of their professional lives adroitly accompanying jazz titans know how to listen, acutely aware of dynamics, coloring and their own role in a larger picture. All it takes is hearing "Seventeen," a lovely Bill Evans-inspired musing composed by Soskin and graced by Gottlieb’s fluttering brushwork and Jackson’s deft improvisation, to appreciate why these musicians have had such fruitful associations with artists that demand attention to detail: Soskin with Sonny Rollins; Jackson with Elvin Jones and Billy Taylor; Gottlieb with Pat Metheny and Stan Getz.
Alternately subtle and striking, the album’s many virtues shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the trio’s previous collaboration with saxophonist Ravi Coltrane. This time around, though, the group has chosen to feature the fine vocalist Carolyn Leonhart on two tracks, including Soskin’s richly atmospheric arrangement of James Taylor’s ballad "The Secret of Life." While the Taylor tune and Jackson’s churning funk interlude "Money Bags" leave little doubt as to why the group chose the name it did, there’s nothing on this album that a fan of mainstream jazz couldn’t wholeheartedly embrace, right down to Jackson’s exceedingly nimble and novel take on "Yesterdays" and Gottlieb’s multi-textured coda, "Drums."
Soskin’s stellar contributions generate several album highlights, including "A Wing and a Prayer," a melody that derives much of its charm from a seamless pairing of piano and bass, and "Meltdown," an aptly titled composition that serves as a burning counterpoint to the more reflective pieces and the trio’s distinctly fresh reprise of "My Romance." Like many musicians who’ve collaborated with Soskin, Jackson and Gottlieb clearly delight in the pianist's intriguing harmonic structures and rhythmic twists, qualities that make even the most familiar tunes here sound fresh and vital.
What listeners will ultimately take away from Secret of Life is the kind of enjoyment that comes from hearing gifted jazz artists express themselves in relaxed and unfettered fashion. It’s not an opportunity that comes along very often for sidemen, even the most talented ones, and Soskin, Jackson and Gottlieb clearly have made the most of it here.
- Mike Joyce