Stranahan/Zaleski/Rosato – Limitless (2013)

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These days, some piano trios are forward thinking (Vijay Iyer) and others are defiantly and proudly steeped in tradition (Jarrett/Peacock/DeJohnette). The trio started up by Colin Stranahan (drums), Glenn Zaleski (piano) and Rick Rosato (double bass) splits the difference between these two approaches.

Limitless is poised to become Stranahan/Zaleski/Rosato’s second release following 2011’s Anticipation, and the level of cohesion here is much further along than what you’d expect of a trio who quickly coalesced after first playing together by chance just a few years ago. The second effort is when a band’s identity should assume a solid shape; you can hear the individual personalities come together into a signature sound for Limitless, and the group character is only amplified by eight of these nine songs being originals by one of the trio members, usually Zaleski or Rosato.

Stranahan, a third generation musician from Colorado who plays in Kurt Rosenwinkel’s band, is a special kind of percussionist, someone who can take over a song while staying behind the piano. While Zaleski and Rosato devise a contrapuntal harmony, Stranahan is making hay with active, light-footed drumming focused on cymbals, snare and high-hat to forge a high-timbred sound. Even on a ballad like “Cyclic,” Stranahan is pushing against tranquility, finding his spots to leave his nuanced imprints. “Rock Song” sounds more like a Chick Corea song, and Stranahan is channeling Roy Haynes. His lone composition contributed is “Motian Sickness,” dedicated to one of his heroes, Paul Motian. Accordingly, his drumming is diffused and inhabiting space that is normally occupied by tonal instruments.

Zaleski might be considered one of the newer pianists on the scene but he’s got loads of veteran savvy. He shows it on the only cover, Thelonious Monk’s “Work,” where he has a pleasantly angular take. For the peaceful number “Zio” he keeps a light touch that isn’t light on passion and exploits the strong, dependable swing of “Forecast” from Rosato and Stranahan by playing in the intervals. For “Chorale (for Fred Hersch),” his expressions take on the articulation of a vocalist.

Stranahan himself summed up the approach of the trio like this: “We have one foot in tradition and one foot in the future.” Stranahan, Zaleski and Rosato succeed in making the middle of two approaches anything but middle of the road. Limitless shows that the partnership is working quite well and in all likelihood hadn’t even hit its ceiling yet.

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Limitless is due out October 15, by Capri Records. Visit the Stranahan/Zaleski/Rosato website for more info.

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