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May I Say You Something?

Origin Blue

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

May I Say You Something?

An assured and confident start from this young New York piano trio.

Origin Blue

“May I Say You Something?”

S.T.W.O.M. Records

Origin Blue are a young piano trio from New York with a refreshingly open attitude to the music. They draw upon a wide range of influences from George Gershwin to Soundgarden and have recently released this, their début CD. The trio consists of of pianist Isamu McGregor, bassist Evan Crane and drummer Jeff Hatcher.

“May I Say You Something” comprises an eclectic mix of standards, McGregor and Crane originals and a version of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun”. Grooves are clearly important to them and they impart many these with a degree of funkiness but there are more contemplative moments too. Most of the influences McGregor lists on his myspace page are American with Herbie Hancock and Art Tatum at the top but some of the music also has a European feel, sometimes reminiscent of the unlisted E.S.T.

Only 21 McGregor is a busy guy playing in a number of different bands and dividing his time between New York and Los Angeles. Origin Blue’s music has an energy and a contemporary quality that reflects the trio’s youthfulness but they clearly have a good understanding of the tradition too.
This is clearly demonstrated on the opening “Groove In Blue” where after an abstract opening section featuring speech and eerie arco bass they suddenly and cheekily pick up on the hook of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody In Blue” before absorbing it into a groove orientated piece of their own, a convincing blend of the traditional with the contemporary. 

McGregor’s “Mad Fat” alternates grooves with more contemplative passages. He and Crane are already highly sophisticated writers and “Mad Fat” unfolds naturally, alternating between written passages and moments of pure improvisation. Bassist Crane gets to demonstrate his chops with a solo and Hatcher’s drumming is subtly propulsive yet full of delicate detail as the trio shift between dynamics with an assuredness that belies their tender years.

“Softly” opens with murmuring bass and muffled drums before expanding into an impressionistic ballad version of “Softly As In a Morning Sunrise”. The trio’s re-workings of material like this and the earlier “Rhapsody In Blue” are strikingly imaginative and original and almost qualify as new compositions. Crane is outstanding throughout and Hatcher’s drumming is supremely colourful. McGregor takes flight in the middle of the tune, soloing ecstatically before a quiet coda brings things full circle.

McGregor’s angular, funky “Krantz Time” honours guitarist Wayne, one of the band’s influences and mentors. At times this is a fine example of the trio “digging into a heavy groove” as their press release puts it, but there are also moments of delicacy amidst the considerable muscularity. Hatcher is featured extensively with a series of powerful drum breaks that exhibit a clear rock influence.

Crane’s contribution with the pen is the lengthy “If They Only Had Some Braaiiinsss” which is a good deal more subtle than the title might suggest. It’s the usual mix of alternating soft/loud passages with the dynamics varying between the reflective and the groove driven. However it all unfolds naturally and organically, there’s no sense of anything being forced. Origin Blue strike a good balance between youthful exuberance and a surprising compositional maturity. It’s good stuff.

I can’t claim to have knowledge of the original version of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” but I do like the trio’s interpretation which begins with the delicate tracery of Hatcher’s cymbals, then builds through Crane’s nagging bass riff before evolving into the main body of the tune. There’s a deliciously quiet solo piano section as well as more full on passages that inevitably draw comparisons with the rock tune interpretations of The Bad Plus. If anything though Origin Blue display rather more subtlety than their more famous compatriots.

Finally one of the most hackneyed jazz standards of them all, “Autumn Leaves” gets a radical contemporary make over with spooky arco bass and modern grooves vying for attention with the famous melody. It’s audacious and highly convincing.

“May I Say You Something” is very obviously a first album but it represents an assured and confident start. The recording is a little lo-fi but the playing is excellent and full of ideas and there must surely be a lot more to come from these excellent young musicians. The New York jazz scene is notoriously competitive but “May I Say You Something” suggests that these three are destined to make their mark on it both individually (McGregor already seems to be fiendishly busy) and collectively.

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