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
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.