This album succeeds because of one simple thing: it's a lot of fun to listen to.
A lot of people have been talking about Lafayette Gilchrist for a long time. This young pianist has gained a pretty good reputation for his funky, adventurous work with his seven-piece band, the New Tornadoes. But I have a feeling that 3, his first trio record, will be his big breakthrough; it's really hard to pull off a jazz trio album, but Gilchrist does it here, through dint of sheer hard work and guts. It ain't perfect, but it succeeds because of one simple thing: it's a lot of fun to listen to.
Let's start with Gilchrist's piano technique: it's astounding. He's carrying the whole melodic load here, but it never sounds like he's straining or reaching or burning out. On the opener, "Visitors" (apparently inspired by Sun Ra), he alternates technically difficult classical-sounding runs with passages where he lays back a bit and lets the notes come to him. At times here, his right and left hands seem to have separate agendae for a while before coming together, gloriously. Elsewhere, he uses his advanced technique to dazzle the listener into hearing things that just aren't there -- it always kind of sounds like he's singing along, but he isn't -- or to pump up flat-out blues riffs (especially on "The Enquizator's Request").
But his band must also be saluted for their work here. Drummer Nate Reynolds is always furiously on point, bringing some New Orleans funk even on quiet tunes like "The Last Train". And Anthony "Blue" Jenkins is an incredible bass player who does more with tiny variations than most bassists can do with whole solos. Neither one really gets much of a moment to shine in a solo context (one of the defects here, I think), but they are the very definition of a locked-in rhythm section. On "Volcano Red", originally written for Gilchrist's larger band, Jenkins and Reynolds provide all the color and cover anyone should ever need.
At times, though, it seems like Gilchrist is trying to carry too heavy a load; 54 minutes is a pretty long running time for a jazz trio album where only one person is driving the melody and the solo work. He seems to tire towards the end of the 10 1/2-minute final track, "Inside Outside"; fortunately, Reynolds and Jenkins make sure that the record doesn't go out with a whimper. And the slower stuff, like "The Last Train", gets a little too glacial.
But overall, this is a great showcase for Lafayette Gilchrist and his talented rhythm section. I want them to do more stuff like this, but I hope Gilchrist returns to the New Tornadoes, and does some high-profile collaborations, and maybe some big-band stuff and solo projects and maybe a duo record with some crankin' guitarist or Josh Roseman or someone. Sincerely, for this guy, the sky is the limit.