When I say to myself the title of pianist Fred Hughes’ new release, "No Turning Back," I unconsciously tack on the prefix "Straight Ahead." And for good reason. Fred and bassist Steve Zerlin and drummer Frank Russo present a very mainstream piano trio recording herein. Nothing revolutionary or envelope-pushing, but rewarding and energetic music nonetheless.
The trio leads off with Clifford Brown’s "Joy Spring," one of those tunes that have an M.C. Escher stairway-like quality, in that its cycle of chords seems to paradoxically ascend perpetually. A good improviser will exploit this musical helium, and Hughes and company do, building steady excitement throughout.
"It’s Easy to Remember" is a nice comedown from the high adrenaline of the first two tracks, and it becomes apparent that the disc is developing as a well-programmed set. Steve Zerlin takes a nice solo on this ballad.
"My Romance" features some nice brush work from Russo, and builds from a quietly punctuated intro to a straight-ahead swinger. "Summer Rain," the next track, is one of four Hughes originals on the disc, and is an attractive Latin theme. My favorite track is "Pensativa" I think it’s just the no-nonsense statement of this great melody that gets me.
The only thing that stands in the way at times is that with the exposition of each song, it seems like the trio’s approach is a little formulaic. It’s almost as if they are saying, "this is how you properly develop the dramatic arc of a song in jazz." Start quietly, follow a straight line to a climax, and then release the tension, play the melody and get out. It’s a basic recipe, and effective, but if followed too consistently, the excitement can have diminishing returns.
Hughes closes the set twice in a row with a couple of funky-bluesies titled "Cruisin’ Home" and "C’mon Let’s Go," with Zerlin on electric bass and Russo backbeatin’. There is a mystery eleventh track, not billed on the CD notes, that follows in the rock-ish direction of the previous two. "No Turning Back" is, all in all, an enjoyable listen from an energetic and capable trio.