A piano trio recording can be a tricky format. As often as not, they tend to rely on the same old tried-and-true framework: a couple of standards ("Autumn Leaves", "On Green Dolphin Street", etc.), a medium-tempo blues in F, one feature each for the bass and drums, lather, rinse, repeat, and voila! Your record is finished. Not that this familiar structure hasn’t yielded some wonderful jazz over the years, but variety is the lifeblood of good art.
Therefore, the Julie Lamontagne Trio’s debut, Facing the Truth, is a welcome addition to the piano-trio genre. Eschewing standards for her own well-conceived originals, leader-pianist Lamontagne provides a challenging yet wholly listenable experience with the help of her able rhythm section, bassist Dave Watts, and drummer Richard Irwin.
The CD opens with "Vagabonde", a moody, impressionistic jazz-waltz that runs the gamut of dynamic range to serve notice that this will be no ordinary opus. Lamontagne’s piano style ranges from Keith Jarrett’s melodicism to the late Krzysztof Komeda’s more mysterioso work. Bassist Watts has a rich, woody sound reminiscent of Charlie Haden, and provides a gorgeous bottom-end to the album. Richard Irwin explores the entire drum kit, most especially the cymbals, and varies the textures most tastefully. Lest one think that this will be a quiet, rainy-day sort of album, Lamontagne immediately kicks into the title track, which repeats a powerful bass theme between pithy treble statements. A tough, yet melodic bass solo by Watts and a workout by Irwin also raise the temperature.
Another highlight is "Hank Dog", a good, old-fashioned funky, Ramsey Lewis-style blues. Amen, sister. "CCM" seems to be a tribute to Chick Corea, and reminds one of his work with Miroslav Vitous and Roy Haynes on the classic Now He Sings, Now He Sobs.
The trio closes out this wonderful collection with "Taksim", a medium-tempo cousin to Erik Satie’s "Trois Gymnopedies." With support from a fine group, Julie Lamontagne’s debut serves notice that, compositionally and instrumentally, this is no ordinary piano trio album.