Alto saxophonist Brent Jensen reinterprets seven classic, time-tested standards on Trios; and if the word "standards" makes you think "mainstream," don't be surprised if the sound here incorporates a free and elastic vibe.
The Idaho-based reedman -- the Director of Jazz Studies and Woodwinds at College of South Idaho in Twin Falls -- employs two very different trios on this, his fourth Origin Records release. Three tunes feature Jamie Findlay on guitar and Zac Matthews on bass -- both from the Los Angeles-based Acoustic Jazz Quartet. "Beautiful Love, "How Deep is the Ocean" and "East of the Sun" have a tight, traditional, pared-down swinging feeling and a relaxed straightahead sound. The second trio, featuring drummer John Bishop and bassist Doug Miller, stretches the familiar compositions more toward the free zone. In part, this juxtoposition of reverence and pushing the envelope is what bumps this set up from damned good to truly excellent.
Thelonious Monk's "Bemsha Swing," a seldom-covered gem, with the Bishop/Miller team behind Jensen's sharp lines, is a bouncing, loose-limbed romp. Coltrane's classic "Giant Steps" and Monk's "Well You Needn't" are infused with a vibrant, free-flowing buoyancy by the same trio. Throughout, Jensen's tone sings, precise, cool, articulate, clean and dry, in a Paul Desmond mode -- and in fact, Jensen's first CD for Origin was Sound of a Dry Martini: Remembering Paul Desmond.
The edgiest-sounding tune -- with the Bishop and Millar configuration -- is, surprisingly, the American Songbook classic "Softly As in a Morning Sunrise." It's a dark daybreak, a throbbing black cloud bass with low thunder drums, Jensen stabbing out a lightening melody with ragged jabs. This tune is followed up by a lovely and reverent reading of "East of the Sun," featuring the Findlay/Miller rhythm team, with a softly swinging, straightahead approach.
Trios is an outstanding set that walks a line between freedom and mainstream with remarkable beauty and aplomb.