Monday, September 10, 2007


By the Bill Mays Inventions Trio
Palmetto Records

It is a bit surprising to see a list of the film and television scores Bill Mays has played on, including the diverse likes of Adaptation, Interview with a Vampire, and Dallas. Despite this obvious flexibility, Mays’ own recordings as a leader reside primarily in the traditional jazz realm of piano trio. As a composer though, he has penned some extended suites for varied instrumental aggregations, and now a three movement suite for his new chamber jazz group, the Inventions Trio, as featured on his new release Fantasy.

The Inventions Trio consists of Mays on piano, Marvin Stamm on trumpet (and flugelhorn), and Alisa Horn on cello. The presence of Stamm’s polished trumpet tones is particularly logical. In addition to being a longtime friend of Mays, Stamm has long shown a facility for challenging arrangements. His Verve LP Machinations featured the arrangements of Johnny Carisi (and ought to be available on CD). With Horn as the Invention Trio, they display a bright, clear sound on a program consisting primarily of classical composers and Mays’ original suite.

Fantasy begins with “Baubles, Bangles, and Beads,” one of four duets with Stamm recorded in 2001 prior to the formation of the trio. It has a light, swinging approach appropriate to such a frothy standard. It establishes a nice dramatic contrast with the following “Vocalise.” Here, Horn’s cello brings out darker hues, blending nicely into the trio.

The longest cuts on Fantasy are the three movements of the eponymous suite. The first movement begins with Horn, and indeed much of its sound is defined by the cello, as when a passage of insistent bowing marks a turbulent mood swing around 5:05, before Mays piano comes swinging out of it. Although Horn has much less experience as an improviser, she interacts well with her colleagues. The second movement has an overall more contemplative feeling, largely voiced by Stamm’s plaintive tones. The third movement maintains that vibe until about the three minute mark, when Mays and Stamm cut loose and Horn follows with some legit jazz phrasing of her own.

The highlight of Fantasy is actually the final duo track, a medley of Bach’s “Invention #8” and Charlie Parker’s “Ah-Leu-Cha.” It is a surprisingly natural pairing, with Parker’s standard lending itself to a classically oriented chamber interpretation remarkably well. It also features short, but rousing solos from Mays and Stamm in a pleasingly upbeat conclusion.

Although Fantasy might have benefited from more contrasts within its set, it is an undeniably strong venture into chamber jazz. The trio plays effectively as a unit, approaching the material with the respect of classical musicians, but showing the improvising chops of jazz artists.

(Note: Bill Mays and the Invention Trio will be playing Wed. at St. Peter’s 1:00 Midtown Jazz, and at the Kitano Fri. and Sat. nights.)