Pianist Bill Cunliffe, Bassist John Patitucci & Drummer Vinnie Colaiuta Convene for First Time on ‘Trio’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Again new label Le Coq Records takes a page out of the fabled Blue Note history, creating an in-the-moment recording session in just one day amongst three of its core musicians, three of the biggest names in jazz. Pianist Bill Cunliffe, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta. If you’ve been following, label founder/producer Piero Pata just established his label last month, beginning with a release by The Le Coq All Stars followed by vocal album from his wife, Andy James (Tu Amor) where these three were prominently featured in the respective rhythm sections. During these various recording sessions at Capitol Studios, Pata had the notion of having the three do a spontaneous recording session. As stated, they had played together on sessions before, both for Le Coq and previously, but never together as a trio.

Readers of these pages have seen Patitucci’s name quite often, most notably as a key member of Wayne Shorter’s quartet and in some sessions with Chick Corea and others. Similarly, Colaiuta’s name comes up aside those of Corea and Herbie Hancock as well as in other mostly fusion jazz settings.  Without drawing out a long litany of names both have associated with pop acts such as Joni Mitchell, Sting, and many others as well. A less commonly written about name on these pages is Cunliffe, the Grammy Award-winning arranger who is used to far more preparation, having begun his career as pianist and arranger with the Buddy Rich Big Band, and from there, Frank Sinatra, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Benny Golson, and James Moody. He has also established himself as a reputable solo artist with a dozen albums and certainly as a bandleader, known for his prodigious skills as a pianist and as a swinging arranger. 

The session is a mix of standards and songs familiar to the trio members, mostly as a practical consideration arising from the impromptu nature of the session where they wanted to ensure they could converse freely and coherently. As a result, all tunes except the late Chick Corea’s “The One Step” were done without any music at all. For players of this caliber, this is not uncommon. For example, this writer witnessed a trio consisting of Herbie Hancock, Christian McBride, and Colaiuta performing live on the spot at the 2019 Newport Jazz Festival.  Several critics at that time pegged Coliauta as more comfortable in a fusion setting (he did appear with Hancock in a mostly fusion driven set) but he answered the call then in an acoustic format and proves his mettle again here. 

The trio begins with a brisk take on George Shearing’s “Conception,” beginning with nimble snare work and economical, graceful solos from each member. They then engage in a romantic interpretation of the oft noir-tinged “Laura” where the pianist and bassist seem tightly locked into lyrical flow.  What follows are tunes they learned from principal band leaders, first Shorter’s “Anna Maria” and the aforementioned Corea’s “The One Step,” where Patitucci is especially lyrical. Coliauta’s sharp but boisterous rhythm drives a fast-paced take on the Miles’ favorite, “7 Steps to Heaven,” but he conversely shows his sensitive brushwork side for Cunliffe’s gorgeous balladry on “Good Morning Heartache.” 

They play freely and playfully on the standard “My Shining Hour” with Cunliffe improvising at will with bright lines as his rhythm mates drive an animated tempo before each make their own convivial statements. A session such as this one is fertile ground for a Monk number and surely enough, we get a tight take on “We See” that’s even more angular and obtuse than the original. This, perhaps more than any other, is where the listener gains a true appreciation for not only their individual talents but their connectivity in such challenging fare. They take us out tenderly but luminously with a reading of “Just In Time.”  

As Cunliffe related this is the essence of improvised jazz – “…we were able to look at each other, hear each other, challenge each other and react to each other in the moment. It felt very organic and was so much fun.”  That musical telepathy comes across clearly and vibrantly.  Trio recordings don’t get any better than this one.

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