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Transformation by Don Preston Trio

Don Preston is best known for his tenure with Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention from 1967. Fair enough, perhaps; it's an incredible body of work, and it's no coincidence that most of the records that are generally recognized as Zappa's best were recorded during this period and feature Don Preston on various keyboards and electronic instruments. On another level, though, it tends to obscure to some extent the achievements of Preston's forty plus years of playing jazz. Happily, the Don Preston Trio's Transformation provides ample evidence of his considerable skills as a jazz pianist, arranger and composer.

The Don Preston Trio, rounded out by Alex Cline on drums and Joel Hamilton on bass, is one of the best and most adventurous working units in Los Angeles today. This program on this CD is drawn from their live repertoire and comes very close to representing the experience of hearing this exceptional group in concert. The CD opens with "The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbeque," a Zappa composition first recorded on the Mothers' Burnt Weenie Sandwich album and a piece that frequently pops up in Preston's live sets. Brilliantly rearranged from its origin as a piece for a large, electric "Rock" ensemble to a version for a jazz piano trio, the success of this version is a testament to many things, not the least of which are the interpretive abilities of Preston, Cline and Hamilton and the enduring power of Frank Zappa, composer.

"Barbeque" sets the tone for the rest of the album. Although there are no other Zappa compositions present, Preston gives the collection a rough theme by including two songs apiece written by two other musicians he has been associated with, Carla Bley and the late clarinetist John Carter. Preston's re-visitation here of Carter's "Ode to the Flower Maiden" (he performed it with Carter as a member of his ensemble on the Comin' On LP) is especially beautiful, building to a luminescent crescendo with the aid of Cline's flurried cymbal work.

The CD is completed by three Preston originals and a deconstruction of Cole Porter's "I Love You." Preston describes his style as "Atonal jazz," and nowhere is that sobriquet more appropriate than on the album's closing number "Prehistoric Eons," a collective improvisation led by Preston's calling of words evoking the creation of earth and the universe. Preston says "Evolve," for example, and band does so behind him. And so, too, does the listener.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Don Preston Trio
  • CD Title: Transformation
  • Genre: Free Jazz / Avante Garde
  • Year Released: 2001
  • Record Label: Cryptogramophone
  • Rating: Five Stars
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