Monday, October 02, 2006

Roger Kellaway—Heroes

Roger Kellaway Trio

When one says piano trio, the presumed format is usually piano, drums, and bass. However, some of the finest piano trios have employed a piano, guitar, and bass line-up, examples being those of Art Tatum, Nat King Cole, and Oscar Peterson. It is Peterson in particular whom Kellaway pays tribute to on Heroes, with Bruce Forman on guitar and Dan Lutz on bass filling the Barney Kessel and Ray Brown chairs, respectively.

Heroes reminds us of the beautiful apostolic jazz tradition—while it might be a tribute to Oscar Peterson, it also brings to mind other jazz heroes through standards associated with other legends in addition to Peterson. “Killer Joe” summons memories of Benny Golson and Art Farmer. “Cotton Tail” evokes Duke Ellington and Ben Webster. “Nuages”—Django Reinhardt, “Midnight Sun”—Lionel Hampton. “52nd Street Theme”—Thelonius Monk. Indeed Heroes is aptly titled.

The result is a swinging set, with Kellaway playing with drive and verve, which Kellaway’s heroes and precursors in the jazz tradition would approve of. His solos have energy and eloquence, as on “Moten Swing” and “52nd Street” with Forman’s comping propelling him along. Kellaway can get downright skitterish on the keys, then bringing it back into the pocket, as on “Killer Joe.” He closes with a long unaccompanied intro to Peterson’s own “Hymn to Freedom,” which conveys an appropriately dignified gospel feeling.

Kellaway is generous with the spotlight, featuring Lutz’s bass as the primary voice on his original “I’m Smiling Again.” Forman gets his opportunities too, nicely rising to the challenge of Django’s “Nuages.” Throughout Heroes Kellaway, Forman, and Lutz show the kind of sympathetic interplay that demonstrates why trio sessions have been so enduringly popular. It is great fun to listen to the three musicians react to each other, particularly on a tune like “Night Train.”

Kellaway has had an impressive career, including recording with two Soviet defectors, Boris Midney and Igor Berukshtis, on the under-appreciated Russian Jazz Quartet’s Happiness. It is a pleasure to hear Kellaway still in full swinging command on Heroes. According to Gene Lees’ liner notes, it was Kellaway who first coined the phrase “the will to swing” in reference to Oscar Peterson. Lees would later use it as the title of his Peterson biography. Heroes further proves Kellaway’s articulacy on the keys, as well as with a turn of phrase.