Moving from North Dakota to Philadelphia in 1990, Ridl, for whatever personal reasons, seems to be satisfied with leading his own trio, spreading literate allusions throughout his music and creating jaw-dropping performances that could be master class studies in piano technique. In fact, a 5-page article in Piano & Keyboard magazine analyzed Ridl's technique and presented transcriptions of his work from his Five Minutes To Madness And Joy CD, the resulting focus being upon his flowing and dynamic playing of sixteenth notes by alternating hands in a single 4-note phrase.
In any case, where does all of that leave the listener? Having recorded his previous albums in the studio, Ridl has recorded The Jim Ridl Trio LIVE before an appreciative audience at Grico's River Street Jazz Café in Plains, Pennsylvania. The benefit of the recording is that we get to hear the audience's reaction to Ridl's trio as it combines his original compositions with the standards, "Caravan" and "Cherokee." The disadvantage is that the purity of the piano's sound is less controlled than it would have been in the studio.
The Jim Ridl Trio LIVE proceeds as an organically arranged set, starting with a solo performance of "Prelude To First Rose," its minor-tinged theme hinting at mystery and meditation developed over an Impressionistic set of tones rather than setting-the-mind-at-ease chord changes. As the sustain of the prelude's final chord fades, bassist Steve Varner in a mood-setting solo creates the forward movement for the connected tune, "First Rose." Ridl stretches time and inserts his own quirky thoughts after referring to the lines Varner introduced and upon which the piece is built. As the tune intensifies, we find that Ridl, after a full keyboard descent, crafts rising and falling coruscations of notes, which, although not Pullenesque in their sweep and drama, assume a delicacy and deliberateness that characterize Ridl's style.
After performing "Only Half A Cup?" an off-kilter blues that appeared on previous recordings, Ridl starts "Get After It Boogie" with a tentative rumble until the left hand develops the repetitive, but thrillingly dynamic pattern. Accelerating and slowing throughout a solo performance, Ridl redevelops the standard blues left-hand movement in tenths, such as in the "St. Louis Blues," as a notion to be taken apart and applied to new uses.
While the "Caravan" intro consists of quarter notes stitched seamlessly together by use of the sustain pedal, the audience at the Café found that it led into a pleasing and energetic version of the tune involving successive choruses of trio improvisation, allowing Varner to stretch out into a two-minute interpretation of his own.
"Song Of The Green River" is consistent with Ridl's interest in evoking images of Americana, and specifically of his homeland in the upper Midwest, in some of his performances. Involving the depiction of , one assumes, the river that flows from the Grand Tetons into northeast Utah--and not the one in Kent, Washington where the 49 murders were committed--"Song Of The Green River" nonetheless moves along a prodding 6-note figure that combines scenic depiction with soft rippling and eddying without the drama of rapids or falls.
Ending the concert with the familiar "Cherokee," Ridl plays the song as a straight trio version of head and improvisations, similar in may respects to "Caravan."
Too often gems of instantaneous improvised composition go unrecorded, and thus unknown, beyond the appreciation of the immediate audience, fortunately Jim Ridl's trio was, for once, recorded live to allow his growing fan base to enjoy his talent in a situation previously unavailable on CD.