While the trio of drummer Ali Jackson, pianist Aaron Goldberg and bassist Omer Avital have performed only on an irregular basis, the musicians have been friends and bandmates in various ensembles for two decades. On Yes!, the threesome’s first recording, they deliver a consistently pleasurable and, at times, truly riveting take on the venerable piano-trio format.
The ambling, ultra-relaxed tone of the opening track, Abdullah Ibrahim’s “Maraba Blue,” establishes the tenor of the nine-track program. A bluesy and often overtly spiritual vibe prevails on a mostly slow- and medium-tempo collection of originals and little-heard works by well-known composers. Flashes of individual virtuosity surface from time to time, but Yes! is no exercise in hyperactive chops-strutting.
Goldberg, who crafts long-flowing lines with blues-accented comping, is a master of understatement — as is Avital, whose bass assumes an equal solo voice. Although drummer Jackson primarily plays a supporting role, he frequently creates a striking but complementary alternate universe of rhythm. A case in point is the crisp, Caribbean-style cadence on his tune “Aziel Dance.”
Thelonious Monk’s convoluted “Epistrophy” provides the most conventional vehicle for the trio to demonstrate their high degree of creativity and technical skill. Duke Ellington’s “The Shepherd” and Eli Degibri’s “Manic Depressive” close this attractive set with the strong blues and gospel currents and the warm, intuitive musicianship these longtime comrades display throughout.
— Mark Holston