The Trio East's new album, Best Bets, is a decidedly relaxed affair, and that is in no way a bad thing. Clay Jenkins is a smart, economical trumpet player with an exceptional, dynamic rhythm section behind him. Jeff Campbell on bass plays smoothly and dramatically, and works very well in conjunction with Rich Thompson on drums. Thompson is an amazing drummer, with a strong sense of tempo, and his excellent playing adds tension and drama to the entire album.
The CD begins with Professor Atticus, an interesting composition by Jenkins. Working his minimalist phrasing beautifully into Campbell's and Thompson's playing, he creates the melody in a playful way. This is characteristic of his style, which never forces itself upon the listener. Next up is West End Avenue, a delightful song by Campbell, a very moody piece that restrains itself, allowing its expressive playing and tight rhythm to be all the more impressive. The third track, Duke Ellington's I Let A Song Go Out of My Heart, is a much lighter effort, with a breezy, bouncy feel and a great bass solo by Campbell.
Hat In Hand, by Jenkins, is very cinematic, with Clay firmly in control as Thompson and Campbell slowly build the intensity. It is followed by Thompson's urbane, laid back track, Les Is More. This superb song features light crisp phrasing by Jenkins and more great work from the rhythm section. Next is the Trio's version of John Abercrombie's Sweet Sixteen, which is a unique song on the album, with Campbell and Thompson in the foreground, creating a great atmospheric track.
Arthur Hamilton's Cry Me A River is a wonderful ballad, with the band holding back its own lyricism in a beautiful way. It precedes Jenkins' Best Bets, the only track on the album that never quite finds a spine, but let that not detract from the rest of the CD. The album closes with a fun, loose version of Coltrane's Bass Blues, featuring great virtuosity by all. If cool is your school, check out the latest by The Trio East.