The trio is drawn from different generations. Originally from Idaho, Shook is an up-and-coming talent with a new recording of her own on Summit Records, and Russo is a well-established performer who is on the faculty at Towson University. As for Butta, he is a phenomenon. Happy to stay in Baltimore for the last three decades--as well as serving for nine years as the house pianist at Washington's late lamented One Step Down--he has been the pianist of choice for many great musicians passing through Maryland's largest city. The list is too long for this space, but let's just mention Gary Bartz, Sonny Fortune, Sonny Stitt, Curtis Fuller, Clifford Jordan, Benny Golson, Art Farmer, Freddie Hubbard, Stanley Turrentine, Woody Shaw, Eddie Daniels, Buster Williams, Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Leibman, Buddy Tate, Frank Morgan, Billy Hart, Terrence Blanchard, Wallace Roney, Bob Mintzer, Roy Hargrove, Grover Washington, Emily Remler, Louie Bellson, Ritchie Cole, Buddy Defranco, Terry Gibbs, James moody, David "Fathead" Newman . . . the list goes on. He's now the house pianist at Windows, where he appears with a trio and vocalist on the weekends. As Butta says, "Piano players work," and he's one of the hardest working in town.
This is not the Bob Butta trio, however. It is very much a co-operative group, with all three artists contributing equally--including three original compositions each from Butta and Shook. After two years of working together, the trio has created a strong, integrated sound. According to Amy "Basically, the recording of this trio is a documentation of many hours working together, and a lot of great musical chemistry, as well as tremendous friendship. It is always such a great joy to play together!"
Butta is very much the two-fisted pianist, in the best tradition of mainstream, straight-ahead playing, from Junior Mance to McCoy Tyner. Shook has a huge sound and great time, while Russo is as crisp as you could want, without ever being overbearing. Add a thoughtful approach to the programming, with the originals balanced by some lesser known jazz standards such as Larry Willis' "To Wisdom, The Prize," and "Just You, Just Me" which is blended cleverly with Thelonius Monk's harmonically similar "Evidence." The arrangements have also been approached with care, using various devices to provide variety, such as opening tunes with bass or drum solos.
This is great playing by any standards, and the recording quality, courtesy of Jeff Gruber, the engineer at Baltimore's Blue House studios, is spectacular--just check out Russo's drums at the beginning of "The Great Complicators."
There are many instances of local artists who deserve wider recognition. But this is more than that--the FAB trio has flown in under the radar to make a significant contribution to the jazz piano trio tradition.