If the opening of the Danny Green Trio's new album nods to Bill Evans and reflects the way that tradition carries a strong role in pianist Green's compositions and playing, the title Altered Narratives suggests that there's more going on here than just a new entry in the trad jazz storyline.
Any gamesmanship in the album comes across less as a commentary on narrative and more through Green's persistent playfulness. That opening track "Chatter from All Sides" comes from the experience of kids at play, and the joy and rowdiness there sets the tone for the rest of the disc. Green's piano dominates the piece (as it does the album), but when bassist Justin Grinnell solos, he picks up the bounciness, letting a spry run eventually echo Green's chordal vamping.
A sense of humor comes out even in dimmer moments. "I Used to Hate the Blues" is, of course, a blues number, and fits the sort of traditional structures in which the trio seems most at home. The smoky opening turns almost giddy by the middle of the number before Green regains his composure. The title's tongue-in-cheek, but the playing's as earnest as it is fun.
Green wisely varies the mood, though, not settling for album-long romp. "October Ballad" is what you think it is, and the trio again show their strength in playing within form. Grinnell takes a longer stretch here in an enthusiastic solo that makes its statement with careful planning an articulation. When Green takes over, the tone is thoroughly autumnal, and he maintains the mood as much with his phrasing as with the melody itself.
The trio's most noticeable alteration comes with a three-piece sequence in the middle of the album where they're joined by a string quartet. "Katabasis" features the quartet, with the violin out front, taking the ensemble to places that are dark but not brooding (Green's light touch helps here) before circling upwards, letting Green's runs provide a brighter sort of energy.
The album closes, fittingly, with a track called "Serious Fun," another blues progression (really, what's to hate?) that could serve as the trio's theme song. The group sounds as tight here as they do anywhere, maybe because drummer Julien Cantelm provides his funkiest turn. The song, like the rest of Altered Narratives offers an exuberance, usually connected to the joy of playing both with and within tradition. As serious as this business is, Green never means to put the emphasis on that part of it.