Okay, it’s not as if pianist Todd Cochran just walked away from recording fifty years ago and made a sudden return. The recording hiatus itself is around ten years, Cochran having played not only with jazz musicians but with Santana, Automatic Man, Peter Gabriel, and Joan Armatrading, to name a few. Yet, the last time jazz folks heard Cochran solo was at the age of just 20 under the alias Bayete for his fusion effort, Worlds Around the Sun, with some ten musicians, including Bobby Hutcherson. Then Again, Here and Now couldn’t be more different as he goes completely acoustic and pares down to a trio lineup with longtime collaborators bassist John Leftwich and drummer Michael Carvin, delivering, with the exception of a few brief originals, familiar standards. Cochran claims to have always based his style on the blues aesthetic tied to the legacy of jazz, which is mostly what he delivers here, albeit with contemporary flourishes and more than a little re-imagining.
Perhaps he sees himself as a keeper of the flame for the blues vernacular in this framework. This is heard right off in “Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise,” along with unexpected rhythmic experimentation, driven by both Carvin’s deft pattering and especially Leftwich’s melodic plucking. Gershwin’s “Foggy Day in London” morphs from ballad to mid-tempo as Cochran reflects on London where he lived for a short time and San Francisco where he has spent most of his life, the shift in tempo characterizing the movement of the fog rolling in from the bay and eventually engulfing even the highest points in the city. He sticks with Gershwin for an inventive swing version of “I Got Rhythm,” punctuated by some unexpected, powerful chords. Solo Interstitials connect and introduce several pieces as if Cochran were delivering a live performance.
There is a sequence of three pieces for Duke Ellington, whom Cochran, then 13-years-old, met when his father took him see a Duke performance. The lovely “Verselet for Duke” is followed by Dave Brubeck’s “The Duke” which flows beautifully as the trio (TC3) renders it with eloquence and verve, leading to “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” where Cochran injects playful sequences into the classic, retaining just enough to keep it familiarly grounded. After Leftwich’s bass meditation serving as the interstitial, Cochran, not surprisingly tackles a classical piece – J.S Bach’s “Prelude XX” from Book II of the Well-Tempered-Clavier. Cochran comments, “After the theme is stated we segue into improvisations around the idea of climbing up and climbing down. Modeling real-life and the reality that we’re continually modulating in one direction or another.” These improvisations feature some remarkable interplay between the leader and Leftwich.
“April in Paris” brings the requisite soft touches, but Cochran’s use of chords and the brief bass statements give it a more expansive feel than most interpretations of the ballad. Leftwich then again goes unaccompanied for “Between Spaces- Interstitial” before we get the most vibrant tune of all, “Invitation,” spotlighting Carvin’s masterful work on the kit and steady pulses from Leftwich, both of whom push the leader’s rapid runs for one of the disc’s clear standouts. This effervescent energy needs to be brought to calm which Cochran does in solo fashion so gracefully on his sensitive reading of Michel Legrand and Jacques Demy’s “You Must Believe in Spring.” One figures that Monk would appear somewhere in this set, and surely the bouncy “Bemsha Swing” follows. As previously mentioned, Cochran has history with Bobby Hutcherson and appropriately the trio takes to the vibraphonist/composer’s “Little B’s Poem” democratically with each delivering brilliant turns. The album concludes with Cochran’s own title track, one intended to encapsulate fellowship, history, and hope.
The music from TC3 is inspiring, invigorating, and played with a nice balance of embracing traditional forms and freewheeling improvisational flourishes. The emotions range from reflective to joyous, but never dark. Cochran chose each piece carefully as each represents a vivid impression for him, yet the positivity resonates universally.