JAZZ PLAYERS today often record solo albums to highlight their own ideas and talents. But small group recordings can also be a vehicle for soloists to stretch out and test their ensemble abilities without sacrificing individual style. Even those musical aggregations that place emphasis on group playing - like the now disbanded Modern Jazz Quartet - allow for improvisation on an individual as well as collective basis, and more instruments open up more musical options. The result can be the further development of solo technique within an organizational framework.
Three recently released albums demonstrate this ability of players to adapt to groups without losing their individual identities:
A.R.C. Chick Corea, David Holland and Barry Altschul (ECM-1009). Those familiar with Chick Corea's popular successes are advised to listen to this trio effort before buying the record on Corea's reputation alone. For one thing, the music here is not new. The session took place in January of 1971 before pianist Corea formed Return to Forever and put out the "fusion" records which have made him known to a wider range of audiences.
For this album's varied improvisations, Corea gets superior backing from bassist Holland and drummer Altschul. The music, however, is experimental and not suited to all tastes. (The same personnel, with the addition of reed man Anthony Braxton, appeared on The Circle Concert (ECM 1018/19); and that two-record set, though praised by many modernists, was nearly unlistenable to those used to a traditional sound).
A.R.C. is not quite as frenetic. Wayne Shorter's "Nefertiti" gets a workout as Corea leads with some shimmering arpeggios. His light touch keeps Holland and Altschul from running away with the show and the composition serves as a contrast to Miles Davis's classic version. Here, keyboards substitute for brass and the trio plays a piece originally intended for more instruments.
"Ballad for Tillie" has flashes of traditional styles, but again allows each player to show his avant-garde credentials. The title cut is interesting for its arrangement, but the faint hint of a melody line is lost by song's end.
A.R.C. is a good example of the players' ability but - again - it is not everyone.
Conception Vessel. Paul Motian (ECM 1028). As drummer of Ornette Coleman and then Keith Jarrett, Paul Motian has developed in an experimental environment, and this album, recorded in 1972, exemplifies a phase of that development. There is more here than the incoherent percussion solos that can result from such a background.
"Georgian Bay" is a contemporary trio featuring bassist Charlie Haden - also a veteran of Coleman's and Jarrett's bands - and guitarist Sam Brown. Though there are time and signature changes throughout the piece, Motian allows for subtlety and a softer side does emerge.
"Ch'i Energy" (Ch'i means "energy" in Chinese) is Motian's only extended solo and it is a textbook of rhythms and counter-rhythms accentuated by classic cymbal work. The title cut starts out as a moving duet with pianist Jarrett, lapses into indulgence, and then recovers at the end.
"American Indian: Song of Sitting Bull," also with Jarrett, and "Inspiration from a Vietnamese Lullaby" are more atonal and involve conflicting tempos which make them more interesting than listenable.
Like Corea's release, Conception Vessel is notable for its spots of brilliance but is not a record for those looking for ordered melodies.
Supertrios. McCoy Tyner (Milestone 55003). Pianist McCoy Tyner possesses one of the most consistently innovative minds in jazz. Years spent with John Coltrane have given Tyner a sense of the avant-garde, but with traditional roots and perspective. The combination allows him a wide variety of concepts which rarely neglect the mainstream audience.
Supertrios is a two-record set featuring some of the most well-known sidemen in jazz today. Record one is Tyner with bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams. The mix creates an amalgamation of styles that can handle a quick-paced modal interpretation of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Wave" and a more electic reading of Thelonius Monk's "I Mean You." Carter steps otu front on "Blues on the Corner" and there are imaginative versions of Duke Ellington's "Prelude to a Kiss" and Coltrane's "Moment's Notice."
The second disc features Eddie Gomez on bass and drummer Jack DeJohnette. Gomez is best known for his work with pianist Bill Evans while DeJohnette has recently led his own bands.
"Hymn-Song" is a swing piece directed by Gomez with Tyner always in control. Standards "Stella by Starlight" and Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life" get modern treatment, while Tyner's own "Consensus" and "Four by Five" are more in DeJohnette's experimental style.
Supertrios provides a cross-section of melodies from the traditional to the experimental and is far more accessible musically than either A.R.C. or Conception Vessel . But all three albums contain some exceptional individuals playing within an ensemble and prove that capable players do not necessarily need solo formats.