Since the ascension of jazz to mainstream consciousness in the 1950s, it seems there have been waves of boundary stretching when it comes to the notion of flute playing. Coming off the Beat poetry scene, Eric Dolphy and West Coast jazz folks like Bud Shank embraced the breathy pipe dream instrument as did Herbie Mann, Rahassan Roland Kirk, Yusef Lateef and Charles Lloyd in early to mid 1960's.
Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson, The Blues Project, Hubert Laws, Jean Pierre Rampal took it other places in the late 60s and into the 70s, hard rock to pop-classical. I'm sure it expanded more in the 80s and beyond but I'm trying to prove a point that there is some sort of a musical continuum going on here much in the way that Jean Luc Ponty picked up the torch of jazz violin from Stephane Grappelli in the 60s and beyond .
Fast forward to the now and we have a group from ever-hip Brooklynites shaking things up courtesy of intensive performances for students around the world and -- particularly -- a series of videos on YouTube which have chalked up millions of views. How does a group featuring flute, bass and cello instrumentals get that many viewers? Well, as Stephen Sondheim wrote back in the day for his smash hit musical "Gypsy" : You Gotta Get a Gimmick!
Project Trio 's gimmick revolves around breathy flautist, Greg Pattillo, who pulls off a sort of "beatbox" effect in his playing that is fun and, well, different. The gimmickry would be for naught if these guys couldn't really play, but the reality is they are extremely accomplished musicians who have garnered rave reviews from the likes of The New York Times and Downbeat Magazine as well as top rankings on the Billboard charts.
Here now in 2012 the trio has two new albums out, "Random Roads Collection" and "When Will Then Be Now." Both are available on CD and sound real nice and natural. Like Brad Mehldau before them - who caught many and ear, including this writer with his stunning interpretations of songs by Radiohead -- Project Trio has widened their audience by choosing pleasantly surprising choices of cover tunes, mixing up Bach, Bird, Brubeck, Mingus and... Guns 'n Roses!
This is fun stuff if you don't mind the (seeming) Jethro Tullisms of Patillo's playing -- I say seeming since Tull's Ian Anderson got the idea from Rhasaan Roland Kirk. Remember what I was saying about continuum?
So that is the skinny on Project Trio. Do I like it? Well I already am a fan of flute playing so they don't have to work so hard to gain my ear. Of the recordings on the two CDs I received to review, I personally prefer when they are less beatbox-y and just getting down to jamming on the tunes. "Grass," for example, brings up echoes of none other than jazz bluegrass mandolin legend Dave Grisman - its a veritable hoedown there! "Random Roads Suite II" is really a lovely tune. I also loved their take on Mingus' "Fables of Fabuus." Some of the tracks remind me a bit of an earlier cello based group from the 70s which crossed boundaries of classical, jazz and pop : The Roger Kellaway Cello Quartet (they had some albums out on A&M Records)
Of the two albums I think I like the Random Roads Collection best, but that is just me. Perhaps its the sandwiching of the cool material like Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee" on "When Will Then Be Now" between overplayed (but great) standards like Beethoven's 5th and the William Tell Overture, which I suspect are great crowd pleasers.
This is a very good thing that this group is exciting a new generation of listeners about the joys of classical and jazz music, leveling the musical landscape a bit more alongside hip hop, rap and other dance musics dominating the many an iPod these days.Bravo, Project Trio, Bravo! Keep up the good work and lets see where they go in the future.