All Music Guide:
reviewed by Alex Henderson
Often associated with classical music, the cello hasn't played
a prominent role in jazz. Nonetheless, cellists ranging from Erik
Friedlander to Missy Hasin have demonstrated that it has tremendous
possibilities as a jazz instrument. And on Sunshower, cellist
Kash Killion does his part to help Larry Willis deliver another
excellent CD. Willis gives Killion plenty of room to stretch out,
and that's a very good thing, because not only does Killion have
a gorgeous sound, he is also an incredibly lyrical and expressive
player. Willis and Killion enjoy a strong rapport throughout the
album, which employs Steve Novosel on acoustic bass, Paul Murphy
on drums, and Steve Berrios on percussion. Sunshower isn't the
sort of album in which the musicians spend their time showing
us how fast they can play Sonny Rollins' "Oleo" and
John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" this post-bop CD
is about expression and emotion rather than pyrotechnics, and
Willis and Killion are at their most introspective on performances
of Mal Waldron's "Soul Eyes" and Kenny Barron's "Sunshower."
While these jazz standards have been recorded many times, it isn't
every day that they become vehicles for inspired acoustic piano/bowed
cello interaction. Equally compelling are soulful versions of
Willis' "Poor Eric" (a somber lament for reedman Eric
Dolphy) and Jackie McLean's "Melody for Melonae," which
Mapleshade incorrectly lists as "Little Melanie"). But
"Melody for Melonae" is definitely the correct title
of this piece, which appeared on McLean's 1962 Blue Note date
Let Freedom Ring and which shouldn't be confused with the
altoist's 1955 recording "Little Melonae" (although
he wrote both songs for his daughter Melonae McLean). Willis detours
into mildly avant-garde territory on the African-influenced "Wah-No-Nahné,"
but, for the most part, the musicians stick to inside playing
on this consistently thoughtful CD.
reviewed by John Crossett
This disc will immediately evoke those classic
Bill Evans trio albums (with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian).
Here is group interplay at is very best. Larry Willis has
like Evans the light touch and the selflessness to illustrate
that the whole is often worth much more than the sum of its
Now, before you go dismissing this as just another
piano jazz trio recording (as I almost did), and thereby depriving
yourself of some superb music, consider that instead of that
hoary old piano/bass/drums combo, Willis uses piano/cello/drums
on Sunshower. Ah ha, I hear you saying, a truly different voicing
to the trio setup. And therein lies the tale of this recording.
Willis, Kash Killion (on cello) and Paul Murphy
(on drums) aided or replaced on three of the tracks by
Steve Novosel on bass and Steve Barrios on drums sound
as if they have been playing together all their lives. There
is a feeling of effortlessness to their musicianship that allows
you to fall right into the music and not come up until the last
chord dies away. The comparisons to the Evans trio are almost
automatic. However, Evans never received the sonic treatment
Willis gets from Mapleshade.
Wait until you hear how well Pierre Sprey has
captured the unique sounds of this trio. The startlingly clear
window into the sound of each instrument allows all of the cohesiveness
between the musicians to shine as it seldom has before. You
hear Willis piano, clearly the percussive instrument it
is, front and just to center left. Killions cello is to
the right and Paul Murphys drums are rear right center.
Novosel, when hes present, is to the rear left. Its
the cello that gets top sound here. Its richness and smoothness,
compared to an acoustic bass, is precisely caught, whether its
being plucked or bowed. And when Novosels playing bass,
one gets a chance to hear the size difference between the two
instruments. Murphys cymbals shimmer and float (a Mapleshade
trademark) on a bed of air as clearly as the real thing. The
sticks recoil off the drumheads in an almost palpable manner,
and when Murphy pulls out the brushes, well, you can even tell
which way hes moving them.
Willis, especially here on Sunshower, sounds exactly
as I would picture a formally trained classical musician would
when playing jazz. (Not a big surprise when you consider Willis
is a classically trained pianist, who ran afoul of the obstacles
confronting an African/American in the classical field.) And
perhaps thats the biggest problem I had with Sunshower,
its almost too formal. There are times when I wished Willis
would let go of his training and just play. But then, this selfsame
critique was leveled at Evans too, and he didnt have such
a bad career.
And its precisely that Evans-style group
telepathy that raises this disc from merely just another piano
trio session to one with long-term listen potential.
Larry Willis has been overlooked far too long.
By all rights, he should be included among todays pantheon
of great jazz pianists. Maybe its all the work he does
as A&R man for Mapleshade, or perhaps its his egoless
style of playing, I dont know. But whatever the reason,
its a crying shame. Sunshower demonstrates just how good
a jazz musician he is. He really shines in this trio setting,
without ever eclipsing his bandmates. It is probably this selflessness
that is not only his biggest asset, but his largest bête
If you crave the sound of the jazz piano trio,
in the classic Bill Evans sense, but with better sound, Sunshower
is for you. Recommended.