True synergy is a most sought-after substance for an ensemble that pursues the more adventurous elements of creative music. Composer/drummer Jon Di Fiore’s trio demonstrates synergy at its finest on his new CD, Yellow Petals (Third Freedom Music). Along with pianist Billy Test and bassist Adrian Moring, Jon’s trio has been performing together extensively for four years and has clearly developed an ensemble identity that should be a model for all ensembles in pursuit of the transcendent.
There is often an erroneous perception that pushing the boundaries results in a diminishing of the qualities of musicality and beauty that have been hallmarks of great jazz since the days in which Ellington, Armstrong and Hawkins were setting the parameters for the serious art of jazz. While some adventurers choose elements of chaos and discordance in their quests for innovation, that is never the thrust of this trio. The influence of modern piano trios led by Bud Powell, Andrew Hill, Mal Waldron, Brad Mehldau and particularly Bill Evans are entwined into the outlook of Jon’s trio. Nevertheless, the singular expressiveness of these three individuals is always at the core of all nine of the outstanding Di Fiore originals on this excellent recording. Each of them provides a fertile canvas for the type of exploration that is fundamental for the innovative and urgent substances that are essential to jazz at its most creative.
A superior composer, Jon creates works that are quite modern, but highly lyrical; each of them delineating a definite structure, but leaving a great deal of room for exploration and development. There is a sense of equality among the musicians that never feels as if someone is simply soloing over basic support. Rather, all three play as one, allowing the music to shift colors and rhythms most organically, never veering off track. It is sometimes difficult to know when the composed sections end and improvisation takes over, as sheer musicality is always the dominant factor. Even Jon’s drums are tuned to provide a totally sonorous texture – much in the manner of highly musical drummers like Max Roach and Joe Chambers.
A certain level of virtuosity is essential to playing this music and all three of these musicians are truly remarkable. However, technical prowess is only the entry point, as all great jazz demands that a story be told; and told with emotion and beauty. On Yellow Petals enthralling stories are told. But as Duke stated in no uncertain terms: “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.” This music swings.
Jon’s drumming is in constant motion; prodding, accenting, coloring, driving, shimmering and steering – always fully on point. Moring’s bass playing is deeply wooded, powerfully rhythmic, crisply defined and remarkably fluent. Test’s piano is dynamic, spans the emotional spectrum from ethereal to explosive and reflects the entire history of the past 60 years of jazz piano artistry – along with clear familiarity with the Western Classical methodology.
Every piece on the album is clearly constructed with a definitive direction and destination in mind, but the journey within is always filled with surprises and delights, shifting harmonically, rhythmically and emotionally from moment to moment without ever losing its direction or essence. Each of the compositions is rooted by a particular inspirational source, whether a personal relationship, a musical source, a composer or even architecture, the depiction is vivid in its display.
The album opens with Demise, adapted from Chopin’s Prelude Opus 28, Number 4, and immediately the stunning interplay of the trio lets the listeners know that they are in for quite a fascinating ride. Composer/pianist Guillermo Klein – a key influence on Di Fiore – inspired InKleined, built upon a fractured ostinato bass line that creates a delicious tension for an atmospheric exploration and dynamic climax. Minimalism is the source on Where Does the Wind Blow, producing an unabashedly hard driving piece stoked by vibrantly walking bass, dancing drums and a brilliantly constructed Bud Powell-ish piano solo.
Environments provided the launching points for three other pieces. The music of North Africa inspired Silver. Like InKleined this is essentially a through-composed piece with patches of space for improvisation. In this case it’s highly rhythmic, exotic, free-flowing and modal, with sinuous piano that swirls like a musette in the solo, later blending with the bass to create a dramatic drone under Jon’s sparkling drum solo. Spanish music is the source for Orange, launched by Jon’s cajón-like drum intro. Built on a bass heartbeat, it features an exciting piano solo that swirls and swings. Shotgun House – provoked by low-income New Orleans architecture – opens as an ethereal ballad and then deftly moves between easy swing and fiery jubilation.
Personal relationships are the roots for three pieces. Live for Tomorrow, Forget Today, a dedication to Jon’s parents, is mostly free improvisation following the lovely melody, built on ostinato bass and shimmering cymbals. An exciting piece, it features a blistering piano solo of fiery single note runs, thunderous block chords and glowing cascades. Companion (described by Jon as “written for the one I love”) is a lovely, highly lyrical paean that builds to a series of ascending climaxes. The album closes with the title track Yellow Petals, in memory of Jon’s mother. A beautifully evocative piece, it opens with filigree solo piano, later buoyed by bass and drums of gently whispering subtlety – a heartfelt expression of love, joy and sorrow, and a most luminescent ending to a scintillating and uplifting album.
Hopefully this trio will remain together for many years to come and continue to expand upon the powerful music contained on Yellow Petals.
For more information, visit www.jondifiore.com