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Listening Post: Mike Jones’ New Trio record and a box of early Martha Argerich performances


Mike Jones Trio, “Roaring” (Capri). This much is inarguable. Lackawanna’s Mike Jones is one of the great living solo pianists in all of jazz. His model, getting started, was the great Dave McKenna whose knowledge of the Great American Songbook was encyclopedic and whose left hand thundered forth bass lines that could swing 16-piece bands let alone whatever Jones’ virtuosic right hand could come up with. Circumstances, though, have mitigated against his identity as a solo pianist. His “day job” is to be the pianist for Penn and Teller, which means that part of his act is often to play while a very devoted and lucky Penn Jillette accompanies him on the bass. What we’ve had for a few records ever since his Penn and Teller gig is Mike Jones the trio pianist, a jazz wonderment of its own but not quite the jaw-dropping aural miracle of Jones as a solo pianist. He is happy to tell friends and slavish admirers that his new bassist Katie Thiroux reminds him of “Ray” (i.e. the great archetypal trio pianist Ray Brown). And if we were talking about large tone and melodic clarity, she does indeed sound like Brown’s offspring on the instrument. But what’s hard to ignore about the record is that neither Thiroux or drummer Matt Witek can inspire Jones the way the greatest trio rhythm sections can inspire pianists. From time to time, he rips off one mind-rending incendiary run after another with his right hand, only to have his rhythm section stay in one rhythmic place without stoking the fire in the slightest. That’s a comfortable way for Jones to play but a rhythm section out to raise the music’s temperature rather than maintain a steady 60 degrees would give Jones something he can’t get playing solo. What he can find as his own rhythm section are reflexes as fast as his own. Too often here he is reduced to locked-hand chords over bass and drums. That’s more jazz rhetoric than it is improvisation or conversation. Listen, though, to “I Found a New Baby” for the kind of thing that his solo work promises for a trio pianist. For those of us who have always loved his work, all Mike Jones records are precious. This one, as always, is full of wit and brains and huge swing. What would he sound like with a rhythm section that helped him burn the house down? I’d love to know. ŒŒŒ out of four. (Jeff Simon)


Martha Argerich, “The Complete Sony Recordings: Beethoven, Hadyn, Franck, Schumann, Prokofiev, Debussy,and Scriabin” (Sony, five discs). Jed Distler, quite properly, limns many of the paradoxes of Martha Argerich at 75. She is an eminence grise if ever there was one, especially from her solo piano recordings. And yet she hasn’t given a full solo recital in public since 1983 (she prefers chamber works and concerti). She doesn’t teach formally but her mentorship of young and up-and-coming musicians is tireless. She dislikes performing on stage almost as much as Glenn Gould used to. With one exception, the recordings in this box are early Argerich on record from 1975-80 but they are characteristic of her back then: one disc with James Galway of flute/piano sonatas by Prokofiev and Cesar Franck, another with Ivry Gilig of violin/piano sonatas by Debussy and Franck, a solo disc of Schumann’s C-minor Fantasy Op. 17 and Fantasiestucke Op. 12, the much-remembered Beethoven and Hadyn Concerto record where she conducted from the piano in 1980. The major anomaly here from 1992 – and it’s a tantalizing one – is Argerich’s only recording of Scriabin anywhere – “Prometheus – Poem of Fire,” along with the Strauss Burleske for Piano and Orchestra, The recorded work she’s best known for comes from other corporate entities, but the Scriabin and Chamber works here make for a valuable Argerich box. ŒŒŒ out of four stars. (Jeff Simon)