When you consider all the permutations that are possible with jazz combos — not only with the number of musicians but also the instruments they play — you might occasionally find yourself craving something simple and basic. One of the purest choices would have to be a trio consisting of piano, bass, and drums.
Having chosen, you might then find yourself looking for a threesome of artists who understand the concept and have the skills to do it up right. Enter the Kevin Hays Trio, with an outstanding new album, You've Got A Friend, now out on the Jazz Eyes label.
Hays is one of those guys who kind of sneak up on you a little — not a particularly big name in the pantheon of current jazz pianists, but someone who is talented and respected, and has a surprisingly long list of accomplishments. For one thing, in his two decades of activity he's generated almost a dozen solid albums.
In his current effort he's again teamed up with bassist Doug Weiss and drummer Bill Stewart, both vital parts of the group's well-received previous album, Seventh Sense. This time around the trio is exploring a collection that is a little more pop-oriented, at least with some of the choices. Included are a very nice treatment Carole King's "You've Got A Friend," (which also serves as the album's title) and what was probably my favorite here, McCartney's "Fool On The Hill." Both pieces give Hays a chance to show his keyboard skills, turning in some delicious improvisation while maintaining the melodies.
Another song from the pop world, Paul Simon's "Bridge Over Troubled Water," provides bassist Weiss an opportunity to earn his keep, and he does a good job of reminding us why he's one of the most-respected around. (This track is offered as a free download by Jazz Eyes.)
But this album is also about other kinds of jazz, with offerings like Hays' emulation of Thelonious Monk on his classic "Think Of One," and a solid reworking of Charlie Parker's "Cheryl." Although Bird himself actually had more than one version of the piece, it's a safe bet that none were like this one — I.E. without saxophone — but it's still a nice listen, and the same could be said about all the tracks here. Recommended.