4 1/2 STARS
Drummer John Bishop, the guy who runs Seattle's Origin Records, does not often put out records under his own name. There was Nothing If Not Something
(Origin Records) in 2005, review here, and then nothing until the disc at hand, 2023's Antwerp
. Not that Bishop has avoided the recording studio. He is, as a sideman, in fact quite prolific, sitting in on Hal Galper's string of rubato-style piano trio sets—one example: Trip the Light Fantastic
(Origin Records, 2011), review here, and first-rate recordings headed up by guitarist John Stowell, trumpeter, Chad McCullough and Bram Weijters' Abstract Quantities
(Origin Records, 2014), and many more. All this is in addition to running a record label and creating some of the coolest cover art out there.
Antwerp finds Bishop back in the company of pianist Bram Weijters and bassist Piet Verbist, both of whom played on the previously mentioned Chad McCullough & Bram Weijters outing. We could call this Bishop's Belgian trio.
The set—that includes three compositions from bassist Verbist, three form pianist Weijters, one each from Carla Bley, Hal Galper and Henry Mancini—has a life-affirming, celebratory quality. This is a trio of old friends gathered in Belgium's second-largest city to make jubilant jazz and slip into, as occasionally and unpredictably happens, a communal groove that takes the music to the highest level. Did they come out of the studio saying, "Wow. We nailed it." They could have. This is, according to Bishop, about "Ales, waffles & fries, and many days/nights spent with new then old friends, and celebration from a feeling for a particular place." And the results say everything fell into place. And magic happened.
From the opener, Weijters' rollicking "Rucksichtslos," to Galper's "Trip the Light Fantastic," rendered here with an introspective flair rather than the note jumbling displayed on the rendition on Galper's previously mentioned album of the same name, to Verbist's extraordinarily pretty "Pointing At The Moon," which features the bassist taking the lead in front of the pianist's deft accompaniment, to Verbist's flamenco-flavored "Bull" to the slow, deliberate, gorgeous take on Mancini's "Two For The Road," showcasing a classic tune to perfection, Antwerp stands out as a blue ribbon piano trio album, certainly one of the year's finest.
Coloring a couple of tunes here—Mancini's "Two For the Road" and the closer, Weijter's "Contemplative," dedicated, respectively, to the recently passed mothers of Piet Verbist and John Bishop—is a mood characterized by a sadness at the passings that seems ultimately brightened by lovingly effervescent memories.
Just when it seemed that John Bishop might not release another album under his own name, he came up with a jewel. Given the quality and zest heard here, the level of the tunesmithing and musicianship, the joyfully percussive trio dynamic, a string of recordings along the lines of the Hal Galper rubato trio outings seems like a grand idea.