By Philip Freeman | Published May 2022
There’s always room in the world for a piano trio that can swing hard enough to make you tap your foot and nod your head, while also offering melodies that will stay with you after the music’s over. Armen Donelian, who’s made 10 previous CDs for the Sunnyside label, and three more on other labels, as well as working with Billy Hart (on 1979’s tremendous Trying To Make Heaven My Home and more) and Mongo Santamaria, has mastered this particular kind of musical alchemy. Fresh Start is aptly titled; it’s his first release since 2014, and features a new rhythm section in bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Dennis Mackrel. It’s good to have him back.
Because the compositions are straightforward, with no tricky melodies or rhythmic puzzles, the hour of music presented is all about mood and feel. The group swings hard on the uptempo numbers, allows a romantic haze to rise up from the ground on ballads, and when they move into a Latin-derived groove on numbers like “Tirado” and “Madagascar,” the rhythm section displays an impressive combination of suppleness and discipline.
Donelian’s playing always serves the overall composition; he writes in the liner notes that his focus is on “sound, expression, storytelling and emotional character,” and that’s evident throughout.