The Emmet Cohen Trio’s third appearance for The Santa Barbara Jazz Society Feb. 17th was by far their most impressive performance to date! It would have been hard to imagine how this trio of young, New York-based jazz musicians could have sounded any better than last year’s event at SOhO music club, but with fresh energy following months of touring and driving up from the Newport Beach Jazz Party, pianist Emmet Cohen, bassist Russell Hall, and drummer Kyle Poole really knocked it out of the park!

Delighted jazz enthusiasts who packed the club were treated to 3 outstanding musicians who, as individuals, each have outstanding resumes including top jazz artists they have recorded or performed with, plus a list of prestigious venues too numerous to mention. The playful synergy of this particular combination of musicians making up The Emmet Cohen Trio is musical magic.

The afternoon opened with Teo, a minor tune played with all the quirky, angular rhythms and humorous stabbing attacks Thelonious Monk would have approved of, followed by a deceptive but intriguing improvisation leading into Darn That Dream. The pacing of the tune selections had a good flow, whether it was a tenderly played ballad such as All My Tomorrows, or a bust out, old fashioned Harlem stride version of My Old Kentucky Home, leading into Back Home in Indiana, morphing into a surprising (to both band and audience) comical rendition of Gary, Indiana, followed by a rapid double octave take on Donna Lee, Charlie Parker’s contrafact (new bebop melody based on similar chords) to Back Home In Indiana. This is where the Emmet Cohen Trio really shines: the ability to react with instant spontaneity during and in between tunes, using dynamic changes, tempo/groove changes, rhythmic accents that line up in near complete sync – all well-played in the playful spirit of real improvisation.

Pianist Emmet Cohen has full command of the 88s. He can clearly articulate a rapid run over the entire range of the keyboard, and shows sensitivity moving from a heartfelt ballad to bringing the piano to a full roar with Erroll Garner style spread chord tremolos. Upright bassist Russell Hall showed musical diversity between taking some fast walking bass solos, doubling the melody line on Donna Lee, and on several numbers he imitated the old fashioned technique of hard pulling on the strings called slap bass. (A couple of times Hall got so into the music his hat flew off!) Drummer Kyle Poole, all eyes and ears that day, commanded the full range of the percussion pallet, not only with a wide range of dynamics but also by showing spot-on punches, groove changes, and perfectly timed rhythmic pulses. It was a treat to hear Poole featured during the Neal Hefti tune, Cute.

The band’s version of Round Midnight brought the house to their feet. The 3 musicians came forward to sing an A Cappella version of Don’t Blame Me, charming the wildly applauding audience, then with a rush back to their instruments the guys took us on a wild romp through Ellington’s Braggin’ With Brass. One sign of gifted artistry is to play so well you can make it look easy; another indication of great talent is to be able to play with a sense of humor like the great Fats Waller could. It seems only fitting that the Emmet Cohen Trio’s new album Dirty In Detroit contains many tunes by Fats Waller – It’s a live recording that will surely bring a smile.

-Debbie Denke

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