An album that claims it was recorded “in a little church in Minnesota for 4 hours on March 13th 2012” is not, of course, guaranteed to be a work of genius. But that’s not a bad way of introducing yourself. And, as it turns out, Dave King’s I’ve Been Ringing You, the album in question, has been my favourite listening for the past few weeks.
King is the drummer with the Bad Plus, a piano trio whose intense, highly sophisticated work I sometimes find easier to admire than to enjoy (they have a new album, too, called Made Possible). But although I’ve Been Ringing You shares the instrumental format of his regular band, it travels to the other end of the aesthetic spectrum, revisiting a selection of the sort of Broadway standards that have formed the staple diet of piano trios for the past 70 years, from Bud Powell via Ahmad Jamal and Bill Evans to Keith Jarrett and Brad Mehldau, yet dealing with them in a completely different way.
This is quiet, careful, ruminative music, built on free interplay around the skeletons of such sublime tunes as Gordon Jenkins’s “Goodbye”, Cole Porter’s “So in Love” and Richard Rodgers’ “People Will Say We’re in Love”. There’s one jazz standard, Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman”, and one original, the title track, which is wholly improvised and credited to all three players. If I say that Bill Carrothers, the pianist, outlines the themes while Billy Peterson, the double bassist, and King produce responses that don’t necessarily follow the conventional harmonic and rhythmic guidelines, then that doesn’t sound particularly interesting. But the sensitivity and lateral-thinking adventurousness with which they react to each other is truly exceptional: it’s one of the few records of its type that I could put on immediately after Bill Evans’s genre-redefining 1961 Village Vanguard recordings without a sensation of anti-climax. And if you want to know how far piano-trio music has travelled in 50 years, compare this approach to Rodgers’s “This Nearly Was Mine” with the great version from 1960 by Cecil Taylor, Buell Neidlinger and Dennis Charles (on The World of Cecil Taylor).
I can’t give you a link to any of the actual music from the album, which is on the Sunnyside label (www.sunnysiderecords.com), but here is an interview with http://www.bebopified, the Minneapolis-St Paul jazz website, in which King describes how the album came about, and here’s a recent interview from Modern Drummer magazine, in which he talks interestingly about his influences.