Cycling, the debut release by the Upper Left Trio, is an absolutely stunning CD. The piano trio is the most basic of the jazz group configurations, but its simplicity inherently increases the difficulty in producing music that is either particularly innovative or engaging, for all but the most casual jazz listener. However, with this recording the Upper Left Trio - consisting of Charlie Doggett on drums, Clay Giberson on piano and Jeff Leonard on bass - has done just that. Every track is inspired, technically flawless and beautifully arranged, yet completely organic and accessible.
What makes this album all the more impressive is the fact that they didn't have to rely on standards to do it. Not that there's anything wrong with standards. The individual interpretation of standards is one of the aspects of jazz that makes it such great music. But it's always nice to see a group of musicians that are not only great players, but great composers as well. Each of the ten songs on this recording was written by a member of the group, four by Giberson, four by Leonard and two by Doggett, and they're all fantastic. From the locomotive pulse of 'Fine Line' to the poignant sway of 'The Start and the End', from the funky groove of 'Funzies' to the gospel-inspired 'Up And Away', they continually surprise yet never stray far from the classic, straight-ahead jazz trio style.
Comparisons to the trios of Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett are inevitable, and justly deserved (that's meant as a compliment - not a complaint). But be that as it might, ULT has nonetheless still managed to record a CD that sounds very personal and uniquely theirs. Their ability to support each other as a trio while constantly improvising and Ždoing their own thing' is a joy to behold. This is an album that I whole-heartedly recommend, and I eagerly look forward to their next release.