New Stories is a seasoned piano trio (and a very good one) rendered even more persuasive on Speakin' Out by the singular presence (on five of nine tracks) of renowned saxophone maestro Ernie Watts. The trio itself consists of pianist Marc Seales, bassist Doug Miller and drummer (and Origin Records founder) John Bishop. The wide-selling album, a centerpiece of Origin's catalog since its initial release in 2000, when New Stories was only two years old, has been re-released this year to mark its twentieth anniversary.
Besides investing their considerable talents to help ensure the trio's good fortune, Seales wrote "Blue" and "Highway Blues," Miller "The Jordy Strut," "Apparitions" and "Speakin' Out." The trio opens with Tony Crombie / Benny Green's melodious "So Near, So Far," brightens Herbie Hancock's decorous "I Have a Dream," reins in Pat Metheny's vigorous "In Her Family" (enchanting coda by Seales) and closes with the album's lone standard, "My One and Only Love." Watts plays tenor saxophone on "Blue," "Highway Blues" and "Speakin' Out," alto on "The Jordy Strut" and "Apparitions."
Seales, who has been one of the Northwest's keyboard luminaries for more than two decades and serves as professor of piano at the University of Washington, is superb throughout, as are Miller and Bishop, and the trio would be more than respectable even without Watts. He does, however, add vivacity and color to the proceedings, his wide-reaching concepts and prodigious technique on full display. He is, to use the vernacular, every inch a monster, whether on tenor or alto, and the trio benefits enormously from his unerring command of the music on offer. Having said that, it should be added that one of the album's more rewarding numbers is "My One and Only Love," on which Seales channels his inner Ahmad Jamal / Eddie Heywood to chaperon one of the more enticing versions of that oft-played theme in recent memory. A wonderful way to ring down the curtain.
Fans of trio jazz in general and Ernie Watts in particular should have no misgivings when it comes to Speakin' Out in praise of this remodeled album, which leaves no room for any assessment that is less than complimentary.