Drummer/composer Paul Yonemura is joined by three superb jazz piano trios, exploring jazz from straight-ahead to contemporary, with jazz standards and original tunes.
This recording started out as something on my bucket list. I'm a cancer survivor and it made me think back to how I got into playing jazz, who some significant people were. I realized that I learned the most from pianists. Michael Wolff was one of the first pianists that I spent some extensive time playing with, someone that I've know since high school. He taught me about the music of Miles Davis and Bill Evans, and many others. Frank Martin came at playing from another direction, one that was very open to a lot of different music. We'd take popular tunes and see how far we could stretch them, as well as learning jazz standards. I spent my college summers jamming with Frank and his friends, learning a great deal in the process. Rick Helzer is someone that I met when I was living in Los Angeles and we clicked immediately. He was quite a composer and I found myself constantly challenged by his music, as well as his playing.
Three different pianists, three friends. What direction should we take on this journey? I originally thought that this would be a CD of jazz standards, but being a drummer in a mostly accompanying role, I modified this view to letting the pianists have a hand in the repertoire. Then there was the job of finding bassists. David Dunaway was a friend of mine from San Francisco and he was the one who introduced me to Frank Martin, so one trio came together. John Lauffenburger played with Rick's group in L.A., so that took care of another trio. For Michael Wolff, two bassists wound up getting the job done, John Wiitala and Doug Miller. As for the music, each trio tackled at least one familiar tune. Each pianist contributed at least one original composition, and David Dunaway contributed a tune as well. As for me, I contributed two compositions of my own.
When you listen to the CD you'll hear trio sets, rather than scattering the order of the tracks. Trio #1 is with Rick Helzer and John Lauffenburger. Rick's tune, "Friend G.R." was one of the first things I learned when I joined Rick's group, Reawakening. It is a spirited romp, with solos for all, with a few twists to the phrase length and harmonies. "Stella By Starlight" is the standard of this set, Rick's arrangement. Rick puts in a few phrase extensions and reworks some of the chords and it's a relaxed setting. The set with this group closes with a bit of Brazilian influence, "Monterey Peninsula", which is my tune and first appeared on an LP under my name, entitled "First Flight Home". This version is lighter, since I chose to play brushes all the way through on it. The tempo is also more relaxed, just bright enough for a samba feel, and Rick and I get to stretch out.
Trio 2 is with Frank Martin and David Dunaway. One of our summer jam session tunes was James Taylor's "Fire And Rain". We'd start out with the basic feel and melody of this tune, but then we'd let our imagination run wild and it never came out the same way twice. This version follows that blueprint, keeping pretty much to the original tempo and style, but then starts to build into something quite different, described by some as having a Weather Report influence. The tempo shifts, Frank sets it up beautifully, and I take off over the top of everything, with the tune winding back down to a quiet "landing" at the end. David Dunaway's original, "Eyes That Tell" is a lovely, dark, floating 3/4 time tune, with a lot of implied pulse, rather than a definite groove. Frank and David take their turns here, and it sets up perfectly for Frank's tune, "Seventh Heaven", a romp in sort of a Latin-funk 7/4 time. It's a bright, happy tune and solos are for all, bringing this set to a close.
Trio 3 is Michael Wolff and Doug Miller, with John Wiitala featured on one track. Johnny Carisi's "Israel" was one of the first tunes I learned playing with Michael and he agreed to take a look back with me on this. Bill Evans' many performances on this have been well documented on recordings, so Michael came up with a different tempo (slower, but still bright) and added some big "power chords" to his wonderful two-handed counterpoint style of playing. Doug Miller gets a feature on this, and so do I. The second tune on the set is "Chelsea", a jazz waltz I wrote shortly after Frank Martin's daughter was born. I named it in her honor. John Wiitala plays bass on this and Michael shifts gears, to a lyrical side that, by his own admission, surprised him as well. This tune probably shows off Bill Evans' influence on us more than any other track on the CD. We all get our moments to solo, but in a much more subtle way, with me on brushes for my turn. Then it's on to Michael's "Blue Couch", a colorful ballad, with Doug Miller rejoining us for this and the final track, "There Is No Greater Love", which is an uptempo way to close the set out, and this CD.
I'm very grateful that all of these musicians, who are my friends, agreed to come together to help me with this "bucket list" project. While I do get my chances to solo, I'm first and foremost an accompanist and enjoyed the challenge of playing with these different groups. The final task for me was what to call this CD? I decided that it was the best of all reunions, so "Reunion Trios" is what I came up with. I hope you enjoy the final product as much as we enjoyed making it for you!