If not for Origin Records, questing ensembles, such as Trio East, would not be able to find label homes. Origin continues their fine tradition of focusing on less well known, to general jazz public audiences, musicians who want to work in free and more open musical environments. This is certainly the case here.
Trio East is made up of three music professors from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY. While each of the three are more well known for their work within traditional jazz boundaries (among the artists trumpeter Clay Jenkins has worked with are Stan Kenton, the Clayton/Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, Diana Krall, Kurt Elling and Dr. John ñ bassist Jeff Campbell's work has included time with Marian McPartland and Gene Bertoncini ñ drummer Rich Thompson has spent time with the Count Basie Orchestra and is the author of two drum set books), here they work open ended and many times totally free.
The results are a mixed bag. There's no denying how strong they are on the traditional Ellington favorite "I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart." Jenkins is lighting quick and follows the changes, for the most part, with highly interesting harmonic digressions when appropriate. Campbell swings like nobody's business and Thompson is romping yet tight as he moves time subdivisions around within the traditional boundaries of duple meter. "Les Is More" is appealing because of the manner in which Campbell builds his ending statements out of previously presented material. Showing the roundness of a single conceptual thought, he is able to take motivic fragments presented early in the tune and reshape them into single melodic lines that underpin and enlighten Jenkins's lines by the end. "Sweet Sixteen," while probably not originally intended to be Thompson's tour-de-force, ends up being just that. His colors are used like individual notes and here we hear the three musicians as if they were three equal improvising singers all following each other's lead, yet remaining solid individual's with their own voice. Drumming acumen is not always found in fast and hard material. It really shows its face in choices made, and Thompson choices here are stellar.
On the other side "Cry Me A River" tilts a little too much towards the lethargic end, and "Hat In Hand" never totally captures a unified statement. There is no doubt these three musicians have skill, ability and technique in multiples. Given more time working in this situation there is no doubt they will click on all cylinders at all moments. Watching and listening to this progression will be fascinating.