There is something majestic about piano trios, even more so when the leader is an expert on restraint and finesse. I’ve seen Aaron Diehl a lot of times with singer Cécile McLorin Salvant, refining and reinterpreting the Great American Songbook and Salvant originals and this, “The Vagabond”, has seven of his own compositions, one by pianist Sir Roland Hanna, one by pianist John Lewis, one Philip Glass tune and Sergei Prokofiev’s “March” from “Ten Pieces For Piano, Opus 12”.
There’s a very robust “Polaris” as the album opener with some Ahmad Jamal-isms (the virtuosity, the dynamic, the tempo variety), and the thick bass of Paul Sikivie. Tension and release is an important part on the classically-influenced “Lamia” where Aaron forms a brightly-colored texture, aided and abetted by poignant drum work of Gregory Hutchinson. Swing is the thing on “Magnanimous Disguise”, at least on the first few bars before Aaron tries to describe and unveil that disguise, using some repetitive chords, keeping it in a rather unorthodox style with playing a melodic line right next to some luminous arpeggios. “Park Slope” is an affectionate description of the northwestern Brooklyn area, diverse, desirable, creative.
There’s the restraint again on “Kaleidoscope Road”, a haunting piece, mystically interweaving elements of chamber, classical, and ballad modes. So it’s almost a surprise when things open up on the free-flowing “Treasure’s Past” with its percussive approach, improvised scales which descend and ascend again in quick patterns. The Prokofiev march comes along as tender and simple as can be. Sir Roland Hanna‘s “A Story Often Told, Seldom Heard” is captured well with its essence of elegance and soul. Aaron leaves a lot of space on the pretty nuanced John Lewis composition “Milano”, one of those typically assured and self-confident pieces by the Modern Jazz Quartet founder, done here as a solo.
Which leaves us with the Philip Glass “Piano Etude No. 16” and its wondrous minimalism, concluding this really fantastic modern-day piano trio album on a contemplative, almost plaintive note.