Even if there were no grand comeback story attached to the Matt Rollings Trio’s eminently engaging, sweetly mellifluous yet often rambunctiously polyrhythmic collection The Valentine Sessions, it would easily be one of the most engaging, sonically intriguing albums of the year.
Yet the narrative of the pianist being sidetracked from his first love of jazz for decades thanks to his association with Lyle Lovett is pretty irresistible. A Berklee grad whose early heroes were Oscar Peterson, Ramsey Lewis and Bill Evans, Rollings became a mainstay with Lovett’s band for over 30 years, during which time he became a studio legend with over 1500 superstar sessions to his credit (from Johnny Cash and Eric Clapton to Billy Joel and Metallica).
In 1990, he recorded a jazz trio set (Balconies) with John Pattitucci and Carlos Vega, and has done a few high profile jazz dates over the years – but nothing on the level and with the confident, strutting coolness and charming, whimsical artsy flair of The Valentines Sessions (recorded at Valentine Recording Studios in L.A.).
Vibing seamlessly and intuitively with bassist David Piltch and drummer Elizabeth Goodfellow, Rollings darts purposefully between moods, romping from the funky, rumbling opening jaunt “Groove With A View” and playful, spritely (and perfectly titled!) “Catch the Rabbit” to the lyrical charms of “Small Bossa,” the snappy, percussive “Weird Habit” and the gently romantic waltz “Always Waiting.” This mood swinging ease continues on the second part of the set, with the feisty unpredictability of the quirky, fast rolling “Beez Buzz Blues” and spry, strolling “Chaos, Edith” offset by the tenderness of “Song 1” and the elegant closing Evans tribute “Waltz For Bill.”