Tracks 1, 3, 4, 6 to 8, 11 recorded at Sear Sound Recording Studios
Tracks 2, 5, 9, 10 recorded at The Firehouse Recording Studios
Because Harvey Mason has appeared so frequently as a sideman on lots of smooth jazz dates, one tends to think of him solely within that genre, even though his roots are in straight-ahead jazz. This rare date as a leader features the drummer leading a series of eleven different piano-bass-drums trios, primarily in post-bop, bop or hard bop settings. His arrangement of "Bernie's Tune" is very refreshing, utilizing re-occurring displaced rhythm behind Kenny Barron and Ron Carter. The magic continues with Chick Corea and Dave Carpenter in their creative rendition of "If I Should Lose You." Victor Feldman's less familiar "So Near, So Far" features Fred Hersch and Eddie Gomez, though the expected influence of the late Bill Evans is minimal. But elder statesman Hank Jones steals the spotlight with his elegant interpretation of "Tess," a tune that was brand new to him; Mason and Jones' long time bassist George Mraz join him. Some of the other participating musicians for this project include Monty Alexander, Charlie Haden, Cedar Walton, Mulgrew Miller, Herbie Hancock, Brad Mehldau, Bob James and Dave Grusin. Mason's informative liner notes not only describe how each take came together in the studio but add background about his relationship to each musician or what appealed to him about each individual's playing. The only oversight on this terrific release is the inadvertent omission of track-by-track composer credits, though a few of them are included within Mason's commentary.
-Ken Dryden (All Music Guide)
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Prelude To Trios
At age 17, I had a house band job at The Wonder Gardens, the number one jazz club in Atlantic City, New Jersey. There, I had the good fortune to see and hear most of the jazz masters from the '50s and '60s - artists like Miles Davis, Ahmad Jamal, Art Blakey, Herbie Mann, Yusef Lateef, Roland Kirk, Jimmy Smith, Jack McDuff, Jimmy Mcgriff, Cannonball Adderley, Charles Lloyd, Lloyd Price, King Curtis, Ramsey Lewis, Les McCann, Carmen McRae, and Charles Earland. Other greats encouraged and supported me, people like Roy Haynes, Billy Hart, Randy Gillespie, Joe Dukes, George Benson, John Hale, Johnny Coles, Jake Toleson, Pat Martino, Butch Cornell, Willis Jackson, Joe Hadrick, Chris Columbo, Ray Lucas, Frank Gant, Bobby Durham, Slide Hampton, James Booker, Eustis Guillemet and Wild Bill Davis.
During my college years in Boston, my jazz world expanded when I had the fortune to work with giants like Teddy Wilson, Red Norvo, Attilla Zoller, Duke Ellington, Sir Charles Thompson, Tyree Glenn, Illinois Jacquet, Trummy Young, Charlie Shavers, Ruby Brauff, George Wein and Charlie Mariano. Then, after graduating from New England Conservatory in 1970, I joined Erroll Garner for a European tour. Immediately following, I joined George Shearing who was based in Los Angeles. I remained with George for a year while making my way into the LA studio scene.
You could say my inspiration for Trios grew as a result of the gifts these musicians gave so freely to those of us who were lucky enough to know them, work alongside of them, and remember the things they shared.
Bernie'stune Kenny Barron, Ron Carter
Bernie's Tune came to me while I was doing the Academy Awards show. On the first break, I went over to percussionists Emil Richards and Larry Bunker and asked them to play it with the reoccurring displaced rhythm that I was hearing. Given the organized chaos of doing an awards show, it was hard for them to concentrate, but I could tell the song would be great.
After completing the arrangement, I felt Kenny Barron would be the perfect pianist to interpret this revised standard. I'd recorded with Kenny and always love hearing him play. It was a feat which would require amazing dexterity, but Kenny was up to the task, and I knew he could take it to another level.
Bassist Ron Carter was the anchor to help stabilize what could have been an experiment gone bad. I first played with Ron on the CTI All-Stars Tour in the 70s. We were immediately drawn to each other personally and musically and have remained close friends and musical allies ever since. I absolutely love playing with Ron as each and every note is an absolute joyous event.
If I Should Lose You Chick Corea, Dave Carpenter
Chick Corea was one of the very first pianists I'd contacted via e-mail. I'd played with him on his Madhatter album but didn't interact with him much; for Madhatter, he'd written precisely what he'd wanted. We'd also played a tune together in a NYC club, but that was a distant memory.
When I e-mailed the Trios concept to Chick, the reply line on his return e-mail contained the words, With All My Heart. I'd used those words in the body of my message to him, and then he gave them back to me. We had a subtitle for Trios.
At the time of our correspondence, Chick was busy preparing for his birthday celebration in NYC, which featured most of his past bands. He gave me a few dates when he'd be in LA., and we got everything set. The date was nearly six months away and would be the final session for Trios. Secretly, I kept my fingers crossed hoping it would actually occur.
My dream scenario was to have Miroslav Vitous join Chick and I and conjure a little of Chick's album, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs, an album I've listened to at least a million times. (Drummer Roy Haynes was one of my very first influences and remains so today.)
Bringing Miroslav to the United States from Prague was easier said than done. Believe me, I tried with air miles and everything else, but it was just getting too expensive. When it became apparent we'd need to go on without Miroslav, I focused my attention on filling the bass chair with someone who, like Miroslav, could enhance a tune and not merely ride the wave.
I'd been playing a lot with Dave Carpenter who was part of my 2001 European Quartet Tour. Dave gained his experience playing for years with Buddy Rich. He just knows how to play with drummers and currently can be found in the bands of numerous big name drummers. He has great time. More good news - Dave lives in L.A.
I knew the direction I wanted to pursue with Chick, but I asked him for a standard which was well known but hadn't been overly recorded in the trio setting. Or, I told him, he could re-record an original which hadn't been done as a trio. Chick showed up at the studio with his wife, Gayle, and after hugs all around he made his way to the Bosendorfer piano. He took his shoes off, played six songs, and looked for my response.
I loved three and was having a hard time choosing one, so Chick suggested we play each to see which felt better. In the meantime, I suggested we play so the engineer, DON MURRAY, could check his mikes and adjust the all important headphones. I'd been whistling a tune all day and asked Chick if he knew the tune. Not remembering the name, I proceeded to hum it, and Chick slowly began to figure it out in the key I sang it.
Dave and I made our way to our instruments and Don, after years of working with me, knew to push the record button. The track you hear, If I Should Lose You, is the first time Chick and Dave and I played a note together. It was that magical. I knew we had the take.
Chick suggested we try another tune just for fun so I chose Walts for Dave. It was an amazing first take, but we played it one more time for good measure. I was so excited because now we had two great tunes. And recording both took all of 25 minutes; that was it. After listening to our takes, Chick hung out, wanting to hear all the other players on the project. Upon leaving he actually thanked me for including him. What a loss if he'd not been there. I will never forget that session.
So Near, So Far Fred Hersch, Eddie Gomez
Fred Hersch was a pianist I'd been listening to for quite a few years. I loved his sound, style and musical approach. Fred agreed immediately to contribute to Trios. Between you and me, I think he was surprised by the invitation. He shouldn't have been; he's awesome.
In choosing a bassist, I wanted someone lyrical, swinging, harmonically languid and extremely virtuosic to fill holes and help paint the canvas that Fred would set up. I looked at my list, and I immediately chose Eddie Gomez. I had heard Eddie in many musical settings, and I longed to play with him. I was ecstatic when he agreed to complete this trio.
Unbeknownst to me, Fred and Eddie previously had recorded together, so it was a natural musical reunion. We selected So Near, So Far after casting the trio. Around this time, I'd also been playing a lot with pianist John Beasley. He had patiently listened to me brainstorm about Trios so much that he knew my thinking and offered to help in any capacity.
Together, John and I sat for days and weeks listening to tunes. When I heard So Near, So Far, I immediately conceptualized Eddie Gomez playing George Coleman's tenor line.
I loved that it was a Victor Feldman tune, because Victor was an old friend and I'd recorded on a few of his projects. John and I did a simple arrangement and demo which I sent to Fred and Eddie. I didn't meet Fred in person until we were at the recording session, but we felt as though we'd known each other forever. As it turned out, Fred had also graduated from New England Conservatory.
At the studio, we never spoke about the concept for So Near, So Far; we just played and made a few different takes. While we played, I became aware this was a magical combination - practically effortless. I could hear each and every nuance Fred and Eddie played. I was so excited; it was happening, and it was good. Eddie smiled, and I knew we had it.
Swamp Fire Monty Alexander, Charnet Moffett
I really wanted a trio that would romp and groove in the infectious style that I loved from the '60s. Again, I been listening and enjoying Monty Alexander for years. We'd come close to playing on several occasions but had never done so. Ironically, a week before the Trios recording session, we were cast together in an all-star, Las Vegas concert which also included Ron Carter, Phil Woods, James Moody and Marlena Shaw. What a rehearsal! We had a ball. Monty is one of the last vestiges of that awesome piano trio era which, along with Oscar Peterson, Ahmad Jamal, Wynton Kelly, Bill Evans, Gene Harris and other distinguished jazz greats, Monty helped define.
Bassist Ray Brown was the obvious choice for this trio, and after his untimely passing, I was really in a quandary over who to use. I'd always loved the fire and momentum that Charnet Moffett exuded when he played, and when I suggested Charnet, Monty began to laugh. He'd hired Charnet when he was 16, and Monty had known him most of his life. He hadn't played with him in many years, but was curious to see how much he'd grown. Another trio was born.
I suggested a few tunes to Monty, but he wasn't crazy about them. So, he invited me over to his NYC apartment, where he pulled out an old Duke Ellington recording, Swamp Fire. When he sat down at the piano and began to hash out arrangement ideas, I was immediately convinced Swamp Fire was just what I wanted.
Session day was like old home week with Monty and Charnet, exchanging warm embraces and stories about the old days. After learning the tune, we set out to record it. In all my years of recording, I've never played with an acoustic bassist who didn't find it necessary to take some kind of a break. Charnet just kept saying, "Let's make another one," and we were playing fast. I thought this guy must be nuts, but each take he approached with unbridled ferocity and the results speak for itself. Swamp Fire swings with fire virtuosity, cohesiveness, and with all my heart.
Smoke Gets In Your Eyes Bob James, Charlie Haden
Pianist Bob James and I have been friends and have had a strong musical relationship for many years. When I think of standard tunes, it's hard not to think of Bob. He spent many years as Sarah Vaughn's pianist and musical director, and he's a master at reharmonizing and rearranging. I could sit for hours and listen to his fresh interpretation of standards, and often during our fourplay sound checks, I'll request he play a tune.
Bob had just recorded the song I'd originally intended to record with him, so we brainstormed and Bob suggested Smoke Gets In Your Eyes. I really love his arrangement, and the first time pairing of Bob and bassist Charlie Haden was an unlikely match which raised the curiosity factor.
I'd played with Charlie before, and I love the space that Charlie uses. He plays the right notes in all the right places. With all our complicated schedules, I learned I would have one session with Bob, then over-dub Charlie on the recording when Charlie was back in town. I hoped it would work.
Neil Stubenhaus, the L.A. studio session master, played electric bass during the original recording session with Bob and I. Neil is a great musician that I can rely on in any situation, and this session demanded sparseness. Neil strictly played the notes and reinforced the time, always with Charlie in mind. It worked. The music holds together very well, and Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is one of my favorites.
Hindsight Cedar Walton, Ron Carter
While devouring Art Blakey's albums, I would always take special note of the incredible compositions of pianist Cedar Walton. He was melodic, funky, loose, and swinging, and it seemed his tunes would always stick in my mind. I'd played with Cedar and wanted very much to include his writing and playing in Trios. Again, there was no better choice than bassist Ron Carter who, having played with Cedar on numerous occasions, was right at home. After listening to Cedar Walton tunes, John and I decided Hindsight would be the perfect vehicle to produce a vintage Cedar performance. Ron was very familiar with Hindsight and the match was made. Listening to Cedar's solo you will find that he used very little comping, and his lines are free and melodic. I love this rendition.
Dindi Brad Mehldau, Larry Grenadier
One of my regrets is not having played with pianist Bill Evans. But. over the last few years, I've spent hour upon hour listening to pianist Brad Mehldau and offer his music to anyone who will listen. I thought Brad might capture some of the extraordinary emotion I feel while listening to Bill.
Earlier, bassist Larry Grenadier, Brad, and drummer Jorge Rossy had created a trio that I was envious of. I called Brad once to offer to sub anytime Jorge couldn't make it. I'd even transcribed drum charts for some of his most complicated compositions. I never got to play with Brad and Larry then, but Trios gave us a new chance.
John and I prepared an arrangement of Dindi, even playing it on a gig, so I knew it would work with this band. Brad and Larry had been in Europe, so I couldn't send them the music, and I was a little leery of asking them to play such a well known tune in 5/4 time. They saw it for the first time at the recording session and proceeded to play it like they owned it.
As we initially played, I was content to fit into their very special union, but eventually I found my way to play from my heart. It was totally enjoyable and, again, so easy, even though Larry plays differently than most bassists-big sound, lots of syncopation and interesting counter lines, definitely not for the faint-of-heart player, and worth every magical moment.
Without A Song Mulgrew Miller, Ron Carter
At age 17, I was completely in love with the Miles Davis Quintet, which included the incredible Tony Williams on drums. I was totally influenced by his playing and practiced intensely with the dream of being the replacement drummer when Tony left.
But my chance to join Miles didn't come until 1975, and the repertoire had completely changed by then. In later years, I went to see Tony's various bands, and on one occasion, was star-struck by his pianist, Mulgrew Miller. I really wanted a chance to play with him. followed his burgeoning career, and felt compelled to call him for this project.
Mulgrew and I had met on several occasions but played together for the first time on this session. My dear friend, Ron Carter, one of the greatest bassists to ever walk the planet, had recorded with Mulgrew on numerous occasions, so I asked Ron to join us. He did what he always does, providing the glue -while pushing everyone into fresh new areas-all while swinging so hard.
We chose the standard Without a Song, the arrangement written by the late tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson. It seemed to take us a while to really mesh, but midway through this take, it really gets into gear and burns until the very end.
One Morning In May Dave Grusin, Mike Valerio
Dave Grusin is probably my oldest musical acquaintance. I first met Dave when we were both playing with Gerry Mulligan, who is probably best known for his performances on baritone saxophone. Dave and I played at Concerts by The Sea and a week at Shelly's Manne Hole.
During those early studio days, I was primarily known as a percussionist, and I was playing vibes on the Mulligan gig. As fate would have it, one evening during the first week the drummer failed to show, and I volunteered to sub until he arrived. Well, I completed the remainder of the two-week engagement and, years later, even recorded a two-record set with Gerry Mulligan and trumpet player and vocalist Chet Baker live at Carnegie Hall. That gig also established my musical love affair with Dave, which has spanned more than thirty years now; I've played on all of his records and movies except a few.
When I described Trios to Dave, I asked him what tune he wanted. I trusted his instincts and didn't know what we'd play until we were in the studio. Dave arrived with a score, parts, and an arrangement full of harmonic surprises, rhythmic changes, and space for interpretation. I had chosen for a bassist a relative newcomer, Mike Valerio, who was ordained as the successor to the studio acoustic bass throne by the late Chuck Domanico. One Morning in May is dedicated to his memory. I believe Chuck is happy with his "sub."
Speak Like A Child Herbie Hancock, Dave Carpenter
Herbie Hancock and I go back to the Headhunter days, but I'd never played directly with him. Over the years I'd sat in his audiences, marveling at his creative prowess, all the while hoping for an opportunity to play a little unadulterated bop with him.
I wasn't sure if Herbie even knew I could play that way, but he immediately agreed to join Trios. Beas (pianist John Beasley) and I searched the archives until I suggested Speak Like a Child, one of my favorite tunes. I arrived early at the studio, tuned my drums, got a drum sound, and just chilled, waiting for the others to arrive.
Passist Dave Carpenter walked through the door right on time. Then, three-and-a-half hours later, Herbie arrived, so I guess you could say we got pretty good at chillin'. But soon we started to play, and we were struck by how straight it sounded, rather stock. So Herbie and I immediately went to work, devising an arrangement and injecting some freshness into it.
Dave began writing down where we were headed, and an hour later we'd arrived. There are the familiar melodies from the original, but we changed the time signature and altered the harmonic structure. It took the utmost concentration because there are so many traverses. To further complicate matters, we'd started to record before we realized this wasn't going to be a snap; we'd really created a monster.
But Herbie was brilliant from the start, and I couldn't believe the level at which he started his solo. He just blasted off from the very first note. The version on the CD is the very first complete take that we made.
Tess Hank Jones, George Mraz
Trios took form in earnest when Executive Producer Hisao Ebine liked the idea and agreed to distribute it in Japan. The project began with venerable 86-year-old piano master, "The Pope" Hank Jones, and his long-time bassist, George Mraz. While attending New England Conservatory, George and I, along with Jan Hammer, played in a Miles Davis sound-alike band. Because Hank already had recorded just about every standard, choosing the tune for this trio was difficult. As a pianist, John Beasley suggested it would be refreshing to hear Hank play a somewhat obscure and so-called modern tune. I love Beasley's Tess and suggested we record it. I chose the studio Sear Sound because of its vintage equipment and the history of the owner, renaissance man and musician Walter Sear, who, by the way, was ecstatic to reunite with these great musicians.
My inspiration for beginning this song with solo piano came from my listening to Hank play the tune prior to the recording. It was free, and harmonies were exchanged so freely without the restraints of a bassist. I asked that he play it alone, and that became the first two sections of the tune. His sound and touch, beautiful. His energy, creativity and concept, unmistakable. What a treat.