by Ian Mann
October 26, 2010
"Follow The White Rabbit" shows Herman continuing to progress and represents his most focussed work to date.
Yaron Herman Trio
“Follow The White Rabbit”
(ACT Music ACT 9499-2)
Born in Tel Aviv pianist Yaron Herman is now based in France and has quickly established himself as a major figure on the jazz scene of his adopted country. Herman is a brilliant technician but his albums to date have been uneven. His trio début “A Time For Everything” (2007) favoured covers of unlikely pop material, an attention grabbing approach that invited comparisons with The Bad Plus and gained him numerous awards in France.
For the follow up “Muse” (Laborie, 2008) he cast his net even wider by including Israeli folk songs and jazz standards alongside a crop of highly promising originals and a solitary pop cover (Bjork’s “Isobel”). Herman has also spent time in New York and the album was recorded with the Americans Matt Penman (bass) and Gerald Cleaver (drums) plus a string quartet. A full review of the album can be found elsewhere on this site.
With his move to ACT Herman has produced his most disciplined and consistent album to date. His partners this time round are double bassist Chris Tordini and drummer Tommy Crane, both new names to me, but ones the jazz world is sure to hear a lot more of. Herman met the pair whilst on a Canadian tour and both make critical contributions to the success of this very fine album.
The album’s fourteen tracks are mainly written by Herman but there are also a couple of trio collaborations, an Israeli folk tune, two well chosen pop/rock covers from the repertoires of Nirvana and Radiohead and most surprisingly a version of Frank Churchill’s song “Baby Mine” from the Disney movie “Dumbo”.
The album begins with the trio composition “Follow The White Rabbit”, an excellent introduction to the voices of the band with Herman’s lyrical, lightly virtuosic piano teamed with Tordini’s solid, grounding bass and Crane’s colourful, imaginative drumming. Throughout the album his splashy cymbal touch is particularly engaging.
Herman’s original “Saturn Returns” is more groove orientated, the shifting ostinato patterns sometimes reminiscent of E.S.T.‘s methods. Herman’s soloing sometimes brings Keith Jarrett to mind also, but these are only convenient reference points, “Saturn Returns” is a convincing piece of work in its own right.
“Trylon” incorporates Crane’s hip hop grooves into a constantly shifting composition that moves up and down the gears in a series of stylistic and temporal shifts. There’s some dazzling playing from Herman and his young colleagues respond with considerable aplomb.
On Nirvana’s “Heart Shaped Box” the trio replace Cobain’s angst ridden rage with an achingly lyrical sadness which I felt worked particularly well. However there’s still plenty of gristle here as the music gradually grows in intensity.
Dov Aharoni’s “Ein Gedi” represents Herman’s exploration of his Israeli roots. This is a beautiful ballad performance that truly reveals the trio’s sensitive side. Herman deliberately keeps things simple to bring out the full beauty of the melody and the trio’s support is correspondingly tasteful and sympathetic.
“The Mountain In G Minor” is a return to groove orientated territory with pulsating hip hop style grooves and bravura soloing from the leader. It’s a close cousin of the earlier “Saturn Returns” with its Svensson meets Jarrett vibe and there’s the added attraction of a feature for the consistently excellent Crane in the tune’s closing stages.
Evidence of Herman’s extensive classical training crops up all over the album with Bach, Ravel and Debussy all discernible at different points. Ironically it’s Herman’s flawless, classically honed technique that helps to make “Ein Gedi” such a success. However the classical influence is most clearly in evidence on the rigorous solo piano piece “Cadenza” which effectively forms the mid point of the album.
“Airlines” incorporates a feature for Tordini who reveals himself to be a highly able soloist. Elsewhere he copes brilliantly with the rhythmic complexities of Herman’s music, negotiating his way through some fiendishly tricky twists and turns as he holds down the bottom end with considerable aplomb. “Airlines” also includes some dazzling playing from both Herman and Crane on what is surely destined to be a live favourite.
Aladin’s Psychedelic Lamp” is a strange little item, beginning with dramatic piano chords and eerie cymbal scrapings before settling down into something more lyrical and reflective- yet still punctuated by the occasional rumble of thunder. All this happens in just over two and a half minutes. Effectively it’s a prelude for Frank Churchill’s “Baby Mine”, the album’s second ballad with Crane admirably restrained on brushes. Some reviewers have found the piece cloying but for me it’s an agreeably lyrical oasis of calm amidst the more forceful, virtuoso items.
“White Rabbit Robot” is a brief snippet of group improvisation with the trio locking into a groove for a minute and a half or so. It’s followed by Herman’s “Clusterphobic”, a punning title for a piece that features Herman’s flowing melodic lines gliding above a subtly funky bass and drum undertow.
These are only the bare facts, as so often with this excellent trio there’s far more to it that with the tune featuring a number of changes in pace and the usual high level of group interaction.
At less than a minute “Wonderland” is a brief snippet of solo piano melodicism and the album ends on an elegiac note with the trio’s brief version of Radiohead’s “No Surprises”. In view of what’s gone before it’s perhaps too saccharine a way to close what is overall a very good album.
“Follow The White Rabbit” shows Herman continuing to progress and represents his most focussed work to date. In Tordini and Crane he seems to have found his ideal collaborators and this musical alliance has the potential to develop into one of the great piano trios.
I would imagine that the trio are also a great live act. UK listeners will get the chance to check them out when they play the Purcell Room on The South Bank on November 18th as part of the London Jazz Festival. Details at http://www.londonjazzfestival.org.ukblog comments powered by Disqus