Hour 22 Guitar Trios – Julian Lage, Charlie Ballantine, Lionel Loueke, Jakob Bro, Gilad Hekselman, Anthony Pirog, Steve Tibbetts

Lionel Loueke

Guitar, bass and drum trios appear sporadically throughout jazz history, but do not see much frequency as a format until the 1970s, when guitarists like John Abercrombie and Pat Metheny adopt the small ensemble more frequently associated with rock power trios. In the last decade, a growing number of guitarists have settled on the trio as their preferred template. Guitar trios from Julian Lage, Lionel Loueke, Charlie Ballantine, Jakob Bro, Gilad Hekselman, Anthony Pirog and Steve Tibbetts in this hour of Jazz at 100 Today!

For over a decade, rising guitarist Julian Lage recorded with a variety of ensembles, including a number of highly regarded duets. In 2016, he introduced his trio with Scott Colley on bass and Kenny Wolleson on drums, with whom he recorded again in 2018 and 2019. The trio’s 2016 release Arclight was also Lage’s first to feature him exclusively on electric guitar. On AllAboutJazz, Troy Collins wrote, “Emblematic of its title,  Arclight reveals another facet of Lage’s burgeoning artistry, finding him moving beyond the acoustic asceticism that defined his earliest recordings and into a more expansive mode of expression.”

On Arclight, the trio masters the 1940 Tommy Dorsey ballad I’ll Be Seeing You. While his 2019 release with the trio, Love Hurts, includes tunes by Ornette Coleman and Keith Jarret, one of the highlights is another Dorsey ballad I’m Getting Sentimental Over You.

2018 also saw the release of Indianapolis guitarist Charlie Ballantine’s first album of all covers, in this case, unlikely in the jazz context, covers of tunes by Bob Dylan. His surprising version of She Belongs To Me, from Dylan’s 1965 LP, Bringing It All Back Home, fits comfortably in the context of ballads from the Great American Songbook.

I’ll Be Seeing You. Julian Lage Trio
(Julian Lage-g, Scott Colley-b, Kenny Wolleson-d). From Arclight. Mack Avenue. 2016.
I’m Getting Sentimental Over You. Julian Lage Trio
(Julian Lage-g, Scott Colley-b, Kenny Wolleson-d). From Love Hurts. Mack Avenue. 2019.
She Belongs to Me. Charlie Ballantine Trio
(Charlie Ballantine-g, Jesse Wittman-b, Chris Parker-d). From Life Is Brief: The Music Of Bob Dylan. Green Mind Records. 2018.

International Trios
In a career that has paralleled Julian Lage’s in many regards, Beninese guitarist Lionel Loueke has recorded with many different artists and in many different formats over the past twenty years, but he keeps returning to his trio with Massimo Biolcati on bass and Ferenc Nemeth on drums, recording sometimes under the name Gilfema. As Mark F. Turner writes, “One of three trio cuts on [the 2015 disc] Mwaliko, Griot, is the most overt blend of Loueke’s past and present: chunky, kora-like guitar and harmonies inspired by his native tongue transition into the voicings of hard swinging modern jazz.”

Danish guitarist Jakob Bro is another player who flourishes in the trio format. As Henning Bolte writes, “Gefion, …[Bro’s] ECM-debut as leader, is a fascinating reinvention of melodicism. His music leads listeners deep into the rich resonances emerging from brilliantly simple melodic motifs imbued with seductive atmospheres. Like Möbius strips his music’s lines wind seemingly endlessly… It yields sounds of elegant ease, expressive depth, and solid perseverance… [the tune] And Then They Came Marching Out Of The Woods is carried by [Thomas Morgan’s] wonderfully grooving bass line, prefigured in the great introductory bass solo.”

Israeli guitarist Gilad Hekselman features two distinctly different trios on 2018’s Ask for Chaos, his sixth release as a leader. His tune Milton, dedicated to Brazilian guitarist and singer Milton Nascimento is from his “gHex Trio” with Rick Rosato on bass and Jonathan Pinson on drums.

Griot. Lionel Loueke Trio.
(Lionel Loueke-g/voc, Massimo Biolcati-b, Ferenc Nemeth-d). From Mwaliko. Blue Note. 2015.
And They All Came Marching Out Of The Woods. Jakob Bro Trio
(Jakob Bro-g, Thomas Morgan-b, Jon Christensen-d). Gefion. ECM. 2015.
Milton. Gilad Hekselman with gHex Trio
(Gilad Hekselman-g/b, Rick Rosato-b, Jonathan Pinson-d). From Ask for Chaos. Motema. 2018.

Anthony Pirog and Steve Tibbetts
Of Anthony Pirog’s debut album, Palo Colorado Dreams, Jeffrey Uhrich writes, “Guitarist Anthony Pirog fearlessly pushes boundaries with his provocative debut album… [His] unabashed and inventive use of effects and loops, in combination with his dazzling knowledge of the various sounds his guitar is capable of creating, draws the listener into his own unique and expressive musical world. Pirog opens with the title track, an ethereal mix of calming loops and echoes that deceptively lulls the listener into a trance-like state…” Pirog is joined by a world-class trio of Michael Formanek on bass and Ches Smith on drums.

Guitarist Steve Tibbetts has crafted a series of widely-spaced recordings that have moved from highly aggressive electric shredding toward more and more acoustic sounds. His 2018 album – his first in eight years – Life Of, is unusually meditative featuring cellist Michelle Kinney and long-time collaborator percussionist Marc Anderson.

Palo Colorado Dream. Anthony Pirog Trio
(Anthony Pirog-g, Michael Formanek-b, Ches Smith-d). From Palo Colorado Dream. Cuneiform Records. 2014.
Life of Emily. Steve Tibbetts Trio
(Steve Tibbetts-g/p, Michelle Kinney-cel/drones, Marc Anderson-per). From Life Of. ECM. 2018.
It Will Get Better. Gilad Hekselman with gHex Trio
(Gilad Hekselman-g/b, Rick Rosato-b, Jonathan Pinson-d). From Ask for Chaos. Motema. 2018.

Julian Lage and Lionel Loueke
Julian Lage’s 2018 release Modern Lore assembles the same Lage – Colley – Wolleson trio that delighted on Arclight and Love Hurts, but this time the set list is all original compositions. His work suggests rock, metal and folk music by turns, the latter in his ballad Revelry.

Lionel Loueke’s 2015 release Gaia reassembles his trio with Massimo Biolcati and Ferenc Nemeth and also reflects an eclectic approach to sound and style for a set of Loueke originals. His tender song Forgiveness highlights his African fingerpicking.

Revelry. Julian Lage Trio
(Julian Lage-g, Scott Colley-b, Kenny Wolleson-d). From Modern Lore. Mack Avenue. 2018.
Foregiveness. Lionel Loueke Trio
(Lionel Loueke-g, Massimo Biolcati-b, Ferenc Nemeth-d). From Gaia. Blue Note Records. 2015.

With the exception of Steve Tibbetts, these guitarists are a young group in their thirties and forties, promising much great music ahead.

Collins, Troy. (2016, March 4). AllAboutJazz. Julian Lage: Arclight. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/arclight-julian-lage-mack-avenue-records-review-by-troy-collins.php

Mosey, Chris. (2019, February 14). Julian Lage: Love Hurts. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/love-hurts-julian-lage-mack-avenue-records-review-by-chris-mosey.php

Sullivan, Mark. (2018, May 18). AllAboutJazz. Charlie Ballantine: Life Is Brief: The Music Of Bob Dylan. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/life-is-brief-the-music-of-bob-dylan-charlie-ballantine-green-mind-records-review-by-mark-sullivan.php

Lippell, Ryan. (2010, March 18). AllAboutJazz. Lionel Loueke: Mwaliko. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/lionel-loueke-mwaliko-by-ryan-lippell.php

Bolte, Henning. (2015, February 26). AllAboutJazz. Jakob Bro: Gefion. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/jakob-bro-gefion-by-henning-bolte.php

Thompson, Gilad. (2018, August 18). AllAboutJazz. Gilad Hekselman: Ask For Chaos. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/ask-for-chaos-gilad-hekselman-hexophonic-music-motema-review-by-gareth-thompson.php

Uhrich, Jeffrey. (2014, October 28). AllAboutJazz. Anthony Pirog: Palo Colorado Dream. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/palo-colorado-dream-anthony-pirog-cuneiform-records-review-by-jeffrey-uhrich.php

Sullivan, Mark. (2018, May 27). AllAboutJazz. Steve Tibbetts: Life Of. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/life-of-steve-tibbetts-ecm-records-review-by-mark-sullivan.php

Thompson, Gareth. (2018, January 27). AllAboutJazz. Julian Lage: Modern Lore. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/modern-lore-julian-lage-mack-avenue-records-review-by-gareth-thompson.php

Turner, Mark F. (2015, October 12). AllAboutJazz. Lionel Loueke: Gaïa. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/gaia-lionel-loueke-blue-note-records-review-by-mark-f-turner.php

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