The only reason I did not review this recording weeks ago is that I kept listening to it. I left it in the CD changer and let it sing to me at least once each day for the two months. Needless to say, this unpretentious trio release will surely be among my top picks of 2012. But who is Dan Cavanagh? An honors graduate of the music program at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN, where he studied under vibraphonist/composer Dave Hagedorn, pianist Cavanagh received a number of composing awards early on, earned a master’s degree in jazz arranging and composition at the University of Oregon, and now is Assistant Director of the jazz program at the University of Texas at Arlington. Among his accomplishments to date are his big band recording, Pulse, and the sublime duet release with former mentor Hagedorn, Horizon. For his first trio outing, Cavanagh brought in a solid pair of pulse-setters, bassist Linda Oh (Kenny Barron, Dave Douglas) and drummer Joe McCarthy (Afro-Bop Alliance, U.S. Naval Academy’s Next Wave).
Taking his album title from a work by Romanian poet Marin Sorescu, Cavanagh explains that “Heart of the Geyser” is “the base of the fount of creativity that all jazz musicians strive to experience each time they improvise.” His geyser springs to life on seven original compositions, a reharmonization of Chopin’s Prelude No.4 in E Minor, a reinterpretation of “Londonderry Air” (the original music of “Danny Boy”), and an exciting cover of Chick Corea’s “Matrix.”
The vamping bassnotes of the piano intro convey a bit of Ethan Iverson in Cavanagh’s opening “Josephine,” and the full Bad Plus is more than a hint as bass and drums join in and melody becomes more prominent; Oh takes a percussive yet melodic solo. “Square One” is a more delicate, rhythmically surprising journey, highlighting McCarthy’s resonating toms and, again, Oh’s assertive and elegant bass. “Bilder” (dedicated to German poet Rilke) provides an even larger playground for Oh’s imagination as well as an opportunity for Cavanagh to reveal his sweetly spirited lyricism, reminiscent of Lynne Arriale. As the only jazz cover, Corea’s “Matrix” is given a reading that the composer would surely enjoy, mildly aggressive as a high-energy, modern bop romp with splashy drum breaks.
Oh takes the melodic lead on Cavanagh’s reharmonization of Chopin’s “Prelude No. 4 in E Minor,” now morphed into a haunting post-bop reverie; Cavanagh’s improvisation explores every corner without self-indulgence. His own “Dark Ivory Tower” could easily be another reconstruction of Chopin, a beautifully written and executed piece with classical grace and romantic yearnings. “Spills” has a mildly frantic edge and playful piano vamp, while “Uncertainty” was written as a reflection on the angst of new parenting, Cavanagh’s chords and Oh’s creaking lines suggesting a somewhat dark hesitation countered by McCarthy’s eager anticipation. The trio gives Cavanagh’s “The Good Life” an Afro-Cuban spin, majestic and filled with stellar moments, from the pianist’s swaying lyricism to Oh’s regal foundation to McCarthy’s songful percussion.
Cavanagh closes the recording solo with “Londonderry Air,” the original music of “Danny Boy,” a song that his Irish grandfather would sing to him. Dan dedicates this somewhat abstract arrangement to his grandfather, and it is a loving, introspective tribute that lingers well beyond its three minutes.
As a whole, this trio recording lingers well beyond its 69 minutes… particularly if, like me, you keep hitting “replay.”