Brian Torff is best known as the young bassist who has accompanied pianist George Shearing in recent years. But that's likely to change now that Torff has formed his own trio, which made its Washington debut at Blues Alley last night.
Installing the acoustic bass as a lead voice in a jazz trio is no simple task. Because it requires a special coordination and sensitivity, Torff is fortunate to be working with guitarist John Epheridge and pianist Jim Roberts. The compatibility of the players was immediately evident on the opening number, a Torff composition that called for fleet, sharply executed staccato lines played by bass and guitar in unison. The piece wasn't alone in recalling the light, effervescent pulse savored by violinist Stephane Grappelli, with whom both Torff and Epheridge have worked. Roberts also prefers a clear, uncluttered approach, yet he managed to swing consistently without disturbing the trio's delicate balance.
While Torff's technique has always been impressive, his current repertoire displays it to new advantage. The trio included a couple of boppish essays, a beautiful version of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (Torff's bowing was particularly expressive here), an aptly colorful arrangement of Ravel's "Habanera," and Torff's own view of Western Chic called "Manhattan Hoe Down."