Off the Stairs
Jim Yanda (guitar): Drew Gress (bass): Phil Haynes (drums)
Recorded Tedesco Studios, June 2014
This serpentine gatefold double album could easily have been a streamlined
single, given that the two CDs together don’t even breach the 78-minute
mark. But although that’s not the point when it comes to critical judgement
of the contents it might be when considering space-saving on your already
Guitarist Jim Yanda’s trio lays out its wares with an eleven-track album
only one track of which, the Weill-Gershwin My Ship, is a
standard. I know it’s a critical commonplace these days that there are too
many originals and too few standards in albums, but it’s a view to which I
subscribe. This is an articulate group and it should be bringing nuances
even to the most standard of standards.
And in support of that contention it chooses to lead with My Ship,
played with resonant and relaxed lyricism and moreover in a convincing trio
fashion, not merely guitar-and-followers. There are bluesy riffs on In-Source where the leader is pushed hard and to advantage by the
bass of Drew Gress and drummer Phil Haynes and a funky vibe saturates Country Mother along with some Country Blues echoes; good brief
bass and drum solos round this one out. Sundog generates a fine
rocking groove, athletic and foot-tapping with a take-off guitar solo.
There’s a nebulous, sonically elusive start to Ghosthood before
some twisting, coiling bass runs and bell-orientated percussion usher in
some quite free playing and sitar-like articulation from the leader.
Haynes – good name for a drummer – takes a long solo on Earth Way
and there’s a laid-back NYC feel to Consecration, a more
portentous title, perhaps, than is judicious – though it sports songful and
bluesy elements and a defiantly blues-drenched sign-off. Daylude
illustrates elements of the album that are both strengths – good choice of
a mid-tempo, blues-infused – and weaknesses; an amorphous theme and
distinctly unmemorable. Home Road is a ballad, with well placed
bass support and sparse but telling drums. This shows deft pointing.
This isn’t a wholly successful twofer (which is really a onefer). Sometimes
it meanders in search of genuine thematic distinction. Sometimes it just
meanders. But at its best it shows a fine trio at work, though their
avoidance of established classics in the end proves a decided limitation.