Audiophile Audition- The Pat Bianchi Trio

A Higher Standard ~ Doug Simpson

The time honored legacy of jazz is to look upon its heritage to build its future. The remarkable organist Pat Bianchi is totally dedicated to that tradition, and in full evidence on his extraordinary new CD, A Higher Standard on 21-H Records.
“My goal for this album – like all my others – is to find material that is going to challenge me, but won’t lose the energy, intent and feeling that is associated with the great jazz organists and their recordings.”

Clearly he has met that challenge. With his outstanding arrangements and the shared commitment of the other members of his trio – guitarist Craig Ebner and longtime associate Byron Landham on drums – Pat delivers a scintillating and captivating set of 10 sonic landscapes that defy what might be expected from an organ trio. Building upon Larry Young’s liberation of the instrument from its previous confines, Pat combines fiery adventurousness with a highly lyrical imagination – equally at play on beautiful ballads and blazing drivers… and everything in between. Block chords, smears, single note runs that rival the powerhouse energy of Cecil Taylor, and shimmering musicality are all woven together seamlessly to tell his stimulating stories, but never losing sight of the sense of swing and celebration that keeps the music focused on the audience’s enjoyment.

Pat’s virtuosity is met head-on by his colleagues, with the fluid and spirited playing of Ebner flawless in both his soloing and support; and Landham always vigorously exhilarating and vividly inventive. Together they create a synergy and unity of intent that makes every piece a fully realized and perfectly delineated sculpture of sound.

The repertoire is delightfully varied both in its sources and intent. Jazz classics, a couple of popular tunes, and a pair of Broadway show tunes combine with two Bianchi originals – all brewed together into a seamless whole like continuous episodes of an enthralling story.

Pat’s originals include Will of Landham a surging, dramatically-etched burner with an angular unison line. Marked by a horn-like organ solo with Dolphy-esque intervals and runs and a scorching guitar solo, it closes on ascending/descending rolling hills over blazing drumming from its namesake. Blues Minus One is an audaciously syncopated, buoyant jaunt with a daring organ solo that maintains its blues core without being in any way limited by it.

The jazz classics include Horace Silver’s Blue Silver in a deliciously laid back and respectfully blue mood; John Coltrane’s Satellite with a dynamic organ solo of briskly syncopated chords and sparkling runs; a gentle and appropriately introspective take on Bill Evans’ Very Early; and a romping version of Oscar Pettiford’s Bohemia After Dark.

The Broadway gems include Victor Youmans’ Without a Song (from the 1929 show Great Day) that opens the album in a brisk groove, built on Pat’s vibrant bass pedal bottom. Leonard Bernstein’s score for On the Town provides the exquisite Some Other Time, delivered with the filigreed poignancy it deserves.

Sergio Mendes’ Brasil ’66 hit So Many Stars unfolds atmospherically on cymbal swells, with the Brazilian feel slowed to a tantalizing gait, as gentle as a misty rain in a tropical forest. And Stevie Wonder’s From the Bottom of My Heart closes this brilliant album on a soulfully impassioned, backbeat driven and infectiously rhythmic note.

In addition to his five previous albums as leader or co-leader, Pat’s performing history includes a litany of jazz giants. A member of the great Pat Martino’s current ensemble, Bianchi has also worked frequently with the legendary Lou Donaldson, as well as George Coleman, Houston Person, Tim Warfield, Red Holloway, Harvey Mason, Mark Whitfield, Javon Jackson, Chuck Loeb, and so many more… all of which has had a tremendous influence on what he feels is essential to bring to the table as a leader.
“I have spent a long time being a sideman to some incredible musicians and they have all taught me that as a musician/leader I need to hold myself and my music to a higher standard.”

A Higher Standard most definitely lives up to that objective.