Although the practice of playing a new melody over changes from standard tunes is not a new concept, improvising a new melody, rather than composing it beforehand, is another feat entirely. This is the concept behind guitarist Royce Campbell’s recent CD release, Trio By Starlight. Each of the track names is derived from the title of the revised standard (you can probably figure out most of them even before hearing the tune.) With melodies being improvised on the spot, this also presented a challenge to pianist Hod O’Brien and bassist Tom Baldwin in their solos and accompanying lines. In essence, be prepared for some examples of amazing musicianship
The album opens with "Unforgettable April," which Campbell does in the same upbeat, straight-ahead tempo of the original. The new melody is primarily a series of descending intervals moving through the chords. The new bridge, however, has some rather interesting tonal choices that add to the juiciness of the pedal tone. Campbell then solos, adhering to the themes of his melody line. O’Brien then takes a turn, playing more rhythmically complex lines while still maintaining some elements of the original theme. Campbell then takes another chorus before vamping out.
There’s not much variation on the standard grooves used (i.e. "The Girl from Rio" is still a bossa.) But the solos are creative and display some out-of-the-box thinking. The heightened sense of awareness and spontaneity may be the cause of the consistently high energy level throughout the album. The music doesn’t feel rushed or hectic at any point, however, but very relaxed and in the pocket. This can likely be attributed to the familiarity of the chord progressions, as well as the astounding musicianship of these artists. Overall, a refreshing, new take on the old classics that’s worth some attention.