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Starting in March 2020, pianist Emmet Cohen, along with bassist Russell Hall and drummer Kyle Poole, provided weekly webcasts to counter a pandemic that had largely silenced live music. Cohen’s latest release, Uptown in Orbit, invokes those successful events, where the trio was frequently joined by many outstanding musicians, including the two horn players featured on half of this CD: alto saxophonist Patrick Bartley and trumpeter Sean Jones. The result is a buoyant album packed with delightful moments.
The trio opens with Willie “The Lion” Smith’s “Finger Buster,” an aptly titled chestnut almost always performed by unaccompanied piano. And while it is Cohen who most obviously dazzles, Hall’s contributions perfectly accentuate the pianist’s left hand. The album’s final tune, Duke Ellington’s “Braggin’ in Brass,” is another burning twister, thus framing the CD with hold-onto-your-hat effervescence. Of the two horn players, Jones sounds particularly robust, offering a high-voltage solo on the lengthy title tune as well as welcomed relief from the slightly lugubrious “The Loneliest.” The trio does justice to Cedar Walton’s “Mosaic” (with Poole getting some rare solo space) and Gerry Mulligan’s “Venus De Milo.” But it’s their drippinglyslow rendition of Neal Hefti’s “Lil’ Darlin’” that presents the three at their most elegant: Like perfectly presented crème brûlée, it’s to be savored.
Original compositions include the tender and loping “My Love Will Come Again” and “Distant Hollow,” which opens forcefully with a brawny bass solo. A brief reprise of the title tune includes commentary by Jones from one of the webcasts: “How ’bout another hand for one of the greatest jazz trios in jazz music today?” While that may come across as a bit self-congratulatory, it also happens to be true. — Sascha Feinstein