In his illuminating liner notes to the Tim Ray Trio’s latest album Fire & Rain, Bob Blumenthal touches on jazz’s rich history of legendary trios and why the format is so appealing and enduring while offering his insights into why veteran pianist/arranger Ray, bassist John Lockwood and drummer Mark Walker are one of today’s greatest and most innovative purveyors of the form.
No doubt listeners will quickly agree and be instantly engaged upon a single spin through this inventive and freewheeling, rhythmically and harmonically eclectic slate of buoyant originals (start with the hypnotically percussive, bluesy New Orleans romp “NO Worries”) and spacious, alternately fiery/hard swinging and lilting/soul-sensitive re-imaginings of compositions by artists close to Ray’s heart. These include exuberant twists on gems by Ray’s heroes (Thelonious Monk, Keith Jarrett), lesser-known works by Carla Bley (the sensual ballad “Lawns”) and Dave McKenna (the rambunctious Ted Williams tribute “Theodore the Thumper”) and a deeply improvisational, exploratory nine-minute journey through the classic James Taylor title cut.
While the trio’s origin – and their near decade long affiliation with Whaling City Sound - is technically rooted in their work backing saxophonist Greg Abate, the intuitive, conversational and “lived in” feeling of the group is the latest manifestation of the even longer-term connection between Ray and Lockwood, who played on the pianist’s 1997 debut album Ideas and Opinions.
It’s also significant to note that after the trio made its initial splash with Windows in 2016, Ray went a whole new direction on his 2020 set Excursions and Adventures with the all-star trio of John Patitucci and Terri Lyne Carrington, only to happily return “home” to his “working group” on the new project, aided by the easy availability of both members during the pandemic lockdown era.
From a frenetic spin on Jarrett’s “The Windup” and infectious, easy swinging stroll through Jobim’s “Mojave” to Lockwood’s affectionate homage to his sons “The Meeting: The Jbug and the Kman” and the offbeat avant-garden tribute “Improv #1 (for Chick),” Fire & Rain is a thoughtfully conceived, artfully executed work of true jazz spontaneity and camaraderie.