(New Morning, Paris, 3 December 2019. Review by Sebastian Scotney)
What happens when everything goes right? When three friends who already knew each other as music students remain in contact for over 25 years? When, although being in constant demand elsewhere, they continue to perform together through choice? And when the trust, the things they have in common, the joy of playing, the camaraderie, the respect, the fun of setting each other challenges… are all quite palpably still there as they perform?
Well, on the evidence of their new album Groove du Jour (jazz&people) – which I have found irresistible and has been on my car CD player for about five weeks of car journeys now – and from their performance at a teeming New Morning club in Paris on Tuesday, the first stop of a European tour, I would say what you get must be one of the best working bands in jazz anywhere in the world right now.
Yes! Trio, formed of pianist Aaron Goldberg, bassist Omer Avital and drummer Ali Jackson, have not just an exclamation mark but also the spirit of affirmation and joy in their name. Both on record and in live performance, you hear yelps of delight from the band members. And live, you see the encouraging, goading, sometimes mischievous looks they give each other.
Perhaps above all it is about the level of invention and musicality. Each of the three is a quite superb musician in his own right with a wealth of experience behind him. Ali Jackson took private lessons with both Max Roach and Elvin Jones, and has been a mainstay of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and other Wynton packages for around 15 years. Aaron Goldberg has been a part of the classic and most durable of quartets led by Joshua Redman, and Omer Avital is a central, respected, and well-liked figure in the whole renaissance of Israeli jazz, with a hard-earned doctorate to prove it.
Does it help reflect on their backgrounds?: “Avital, an Israeli of Yemeni/Moroccan descent; Jackson…a Detroit-raised Black American with Islamic roots…and Goldberg, a Jewish Bostonian…” according to one source. I’m not sure, except to make the point that it is through the music that they find their common understanding. I was more taken by another, more current story: that Ali Jackson has a son who is an extremely promising young soccer player, now in the youth set-up around Toulouse and FC Blagnac, and the drummer has now made his base in France. And when one sees the drummer using the footballer’s skill of “feigning”, particularly with the endings of tunes, the question is whether the son learnt it from the father, or vice versa.
This performance was just a series of delights. Avital will sometimes throw in some fast filigree fingerwork near the bridge, but then halt proceedings with a sudden slow downward theatrical gliss or “fall”. Jackson can punctuate I’ll be Seeing You precisely with a slow, insistent, metronomic backbeat rimshot, but will also use the freedom given by having a bass player with such strong time to abandon all responsibility for time-keeping, and just roam free on a tambourine. And Goldberg’s playing in Tokyo Dream not only brought back happy memories of the poise and balance of Tommy Flanagan, it evoked a sense of wonder as fragments of Bizet kept on creeping in.
The whole enterprise has been very well put together by Vincent Bessières. All that remains to be said is that the current tour (dates here) is absolutely essential listening. To misquote Boris Vian, life without Yes! would be a mistake.
LINKS: Yes! Trio at Jazz&People
Helene Poisson was live-drawing at the gig. A video about her work is HERE, and she can be reached via email at cassiopee8orion (at) gmail.com
Categories: Live review