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Out-there but listenable

Fantasy
Fantasy
By Bill Mays & the Inventions Trio

Palmetto Records: 2007

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This review first appeared in Turbula in December 2007.

The latest CD from former San Diegan Bill Mays (still one-fourth of the locally based and occasionally active jazz quartet Road Work Ahead with Peter Sprague, Bob Magnusson and Jim Plank) finds the pianist in the oddly constructed Inventions Trio with cellist Alisa Horn and trumpeter Marvin Stamm.

If the trio is far from the norm in its instrumentation, it's no less so in its playing. While Mays' name is on the CD jacket, he really is only one-third of what's happening here. Horn and Stamm alternate with Mays in taking the lead, and he finds himself in the role of accompanying them in nearly even measure. It is one of the most egalitarian trios you'll find, and after listening one gets the sense that May's name is on the cover more for name recognition to boost sales.

In its compositions, too, the trio lies outside most existing categories – at least in its three-movement "Fantasy." Incorporating broad elements of both classical and jazz, the music of "Fantasy" is one of the more successful, or at least the most seamless, meldings of the classical tradition with jazz, with broad themes slowly built up as in classical or baroque, but with many modern flourishes. The trumpet and cello are contrasted against each other for most of "Fantasy," with Mays' piano tinkling along behind both.

The rest of the album is more recognizably jazz – straight ahead for the most part, with some out-there experimentation going on, but nothing too dissonant or unlistenable. All in all, it is a fresh-sounding, superbly performed collection of new music unique in both its makeup and execution.