Deep into Disc 1 of their new live double album, jazz pianist Laura Dubin and her trio slip quotes from the American Songbook – “Blue Skies,” “The Way You Look Tonight” and the like – into a boisterous jazz arrangement of the famous opening of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 8 “Pathétique,” the whole thing clocking in at under five minutes. The bulk of the music on this recording, captured live at the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival on July 2, 2016, is “pure” jazz. But that brief classical-crossover eruption captures the spirit of the whole set. For one thing, it embodies the rhythmic charge of the songs, both the many Dubin originals and the covers, all of which have a bubbling, tradition-infused but timeless kind of energy.
In fact, the musicians seem so excited that the rhythm nearly gets away from them at the bass and drums’ first entrance in the “Pathétique.” The three players are all superb musicians with enviable chops and tightness, but the performances have a wonderful loose aura, a feeling of coloring outside the lines. Dubin, her husband and drummer Antonio H. Guerrero, and bassist Kieran Hanlon are playing before a hometown Rochester crowd and their connection to the enthusiastic audience is palpable.
The selections are a fizzy mix of traditional jazz and bebop (mostly originals) and standards (Gershwin, Cole Porter, Fats Waller), and classical and romantic piano music by the likes of Mozart, Chopin, and Ravel. The band busts out its rhythmic chops on the appropriately named “Thunderstorm” and its facility with gentler cadences on “Ode to O.P.” (which I feel pretty sure Oscar Peterson would have liked), both Dubin originals.
The set includes flights of original bop in some of Dubin’s own tunes, such as the jolting “Anxiety” and the boogie-swing of “Something’s Cookin’,” and pastoral inspiration on others, like the (I assume) Bill Evans-inspired “Waltz for Bill,” which flows into a hearty “It’s De-Lovely.” A concise “I Got Rhythm” flows like champagne into a flute.
Dubin, who can channel “O.P.” but also play with the curious angularity of an amped-up Monk, seems to take enormous joy in finding surprising connections. The Bach-inspired “Invention for Nina” slides from delicate to dramatic, ultimately suggesting the deep tones of a church organ. The trio is as much at ease in a bluesy mode (“Kelly Green”) as in the Baroque. They filter Mozart through Louis Prima and a touch of Sousa in their take on the “Rondo alla Turca” from Sonata No. 11.
“Kelly Green” gives Hanlon an opportunity for an inspired arco bass solo; the Latin jazz of “On Fire” sees Guerrero firing away on the drums; and Dubin takes the solo spotlight on a Debussy-Gershwin medley that makes beautiful sense.
Whether this reflects my personal tastes or my discernment, I can’t say (you’ll have to listen for yourself), but I can say that this is my favorite jazz album this year.