Review By Dan Bilawsky
The art of the trio often takes shape in a variety of ways. Many of today’s leading three-piece groups rely on a difficult-is-better approach, reveling in rhythmic trickery, harmonic complexity and melodic fragmentation. Others choose to distill everything down to bare essentials but, in doing so, run the risk of playing dumbed-down lounge jazz that’s generic and generally boring. Drummer Jacob Melchior’s trio travels on a path that moves comfortably between these two extremes and, in doing so, remains highly accessible and manages to hold interest.
While drummer-leaders often feel the need to pull every trick out of their bag to prove their worth, Melchior’s playing lives up to his album title and the group sound proves to be more important to him than individual percussive flash. Collective coherence trumps all here: whether laying down an infectious Calypso-inspired groove (”Bird Of Beauty”); providing subtle percussive inflections and soft-as-can-be bossa nova patterns (”Brigas Nunca Mais”); or simply swinging at a relaxed pace (”Summer Fair”), Melchior always puts the music before himself.
His trio mates are superb collaborators who share the drummer’s vision for clarity. Bassist Hassan JJ Shakur Shakur’s bass is the central melodic presence on a deeply soulful take of “The Lady Of My Life,” which morphs into a collectively written piece called “My Baby,” -and he and Melchior demonstrate telepathic rapport as they explore the underbrush of “It Might As Well Be Spring,” leaving pianist Tadataka Unno to handle the heavy lifting above. Unno is a master of self-editing, providing what’s necessary without overplaying. Even when delivering speedy runs (”Lover/Gerry’s Wig”), his touch remains graceful. The trio also proves to be simpatico in their accompanying sensibilities, backing guest vocalist Frank Senior with class on “For All We Know.”
While Melchior is often a selfless presence, he still finds plenty of solo space to make his mark. The drummer adds some Gene Krupa-like flare to “Dancing Foo/Squatty Roo”; provides some terrific tom work as “Bird Of Beauty” takes flight; and thrives whenever he trades solos with his musical partners (”Summer Fair”).
After hearing all nine tracks here, it’s evident that It’s About Time is really about chemistry, musical creation and the intimate bond between three musicians who speak the same language.