Joe Cartwright has soul eyes. Ever since Bill Evans in 1959 established the acoustic piano trio as the format from which to seek freedom in the groove, all comers have laid their swords at the feet of such earlier gods who dwell at the jazz pantheon. With this recording, Cartwright now opens the soul eyes of those earlier gods, demonstrating a mastery of the firm yet subtle balance that exists in the delicate “marriage” of three musicians – himself, Todd Strait, and Bob Bowman.
From the very first track, “Dreamsville,” the trio takes the road less traveled. Strait resists the all-too-common urge to double-time, and Bowman in kind negates the obvious invitation to walk. Taking Cartwright’s telepathic lead, they collectively choose to just dig deeper and swing harder. This, in essence, is the modus operandi of the trio.
Throughout the album, the listener is offered a whiff of aromas that surface from the caldron where servings of unbridled enthusiasm are being shared among three masters of the craft.
Todd Strait’s lithe drumming is like a flittering butterfly. His hands, simply put, are always around, lurking, almost stalking from behind; the chattery left hand is dazzling, while his floor work anchors the pace. Meanwhile, Cartwright’s melodic virtuosity is deftly fused with his propulsive, percussive attack, as if taking cues from Strait. And perched precariously in between is Bowman, whose triplet-laden, multi-layered bass lines come bursting forth, simultaneously blending the harmonic advances from Cartwright and rhythmic complexity of Strait and leaving no uncertainty regarding his ability to meet the unrelenting demands of both gentle giants.
The sonic landscape is almost too visual; the music seems to be slowly surging toward your ears. Engineered to near perfection, this disc should be used as a litmus test for breaking in new headphones.
Cartwright’s sensibility of swing lies within his deep overarching inflection of and affection for the blues, aged and earthy, with a Horatian propensity for gospel-tinged soul music. Indeed both Silver and Connick would blush upon hearing the whimsical qualities he endlessly exudes, the earmark that identifies him always as the catalyst for that eternal joie de vivre that permeates the trio and ultimately the music itself.
The musical camaraderie is self-evident. They play like they’ve grown up together. The laughter at the end of “Love Walked In” tells you all you need to know. These guys really enjoy each other’s company, and every gig is boy’s night out. As for Cartwright, I leave you with my personal paean: Joe’s left hand is as serious as your life, and his right will give you good religion.
Dr. Wayne Goins
Director of Jazz,
Kansas State University,