Steve Grover Trio: Breath

Drum machine

Steve Grover takes another Breath

There should be a box on your tax forms that you could check each year to allow some of your hard-earned dollars to go toward paying Steve Grover’s taxes — income, property, sales, whatever. Anything to keep this guy in Maine. Not that he’s thinking about leaving: He’s happy teaching jazz and the history of pop music at UMaine/Augusta and, every few years or so, putting out a jazz record to document his time spent here and the compositions that have bounced into his head. But, damn, what a treasure.

grover-breathGo ahead, try and find other drummer-led jazz trios and ensembles. There aren’t many. I do know of the Daniel Glass Trio (which features an upstart vibist), Peter Erskine (who heads a piano trio), and the Whit Dickey Trio (which features an alto sax). Plus, I found a cool recording of Paul Motian leading alto saxist Joe Lovano and guitarist Bill Frisell.

Notice that variety, though. Drummers playing with vibists, organ players, guitarists, pianists — we should encourage this drummer-led trio thing. Every jazz band has to have a drummer, right? And if every drummer can produce a record like Steve Grover’s new Breath [*This was originally published in November of 2003], we’d be doing pretty well. With the help of friends Frank Carlberg on the piano and Chris Van Voorst Van Beest on the bass (and a cameo by tenor saxophonist Andrew Rathbun), Grover has put together a wonderful album of jazz that ranges from the neo-classical “Intrinsic” (a “free” ballad, with no meter) to the “typical thing to do” eight-bar exchanges of the opening “Underdog.” Listen for Carlberg’s difficult rhythm exchanges between his left and right hand, and Van Beest’s aggressive high-end break, on “Apprentice.” That’s how a trio should work.

“For years I always said that my favorite thing to do was to work with three people and it didn’t matter what instruments,” says Grover of his choice for the new record. “I’ve done some stuff with guitar and saxophone and no bass. And Tony [Gaboury] and I would work in a trio from time to time. It’s just a different environment. I can take more solos and not feel like I’m sticking out.”

Which is strange, isn’t it? The bandleader not wanting to stick out? Can you imagine Benny Goodman saying, “yeah, I didn’t want to stick out on that last record”? But, of course, Grover’s playing does stick out. It’s just too good not to. Also, Grover says that he’s a bit higher in the mix than normal here, and bounces around to both sides of the stereo.

Check out his big, forceful, floor-tommy, bassy drum solo on “Spherical,” over quiet jabs by the piano continuing the melody: “I’m accompanied,” says Grover, “so I don’t have to fill everything up all the time.” It’s just great integration of the band’s talents.

He’s also accompanied for his solo on “Holiday,” where he breaks out the mallets for a Latin/samba thing. But he’s all alone on “Underdog,” where he works his snare in alternately halting and fluid gaps and rolls, and he goes full steam on his open solo during “Balance.”

The finisher, however, the beautifully intimate “Portrait #4,” featuring Rathbun, is the total package. Grover is a monster here, building anticipation while the sax takes a leave, then providing cover when it reenters with some dark swagger, and providing a crackling energy through Rathbun’s precise, ebullient phrases around the 5:20 mark. Finally the tune crests and releases, a fitting finish for a terrific disc.

The Steve Grover Quartet, featuring Brad Terry: Remember

How could we forget?

Grover and Terry remain timeless

grover-rememerIf you ever have the pleasure to meet Brad Terry [*This originally published in October of 2000], you’ll probably find him extolling the merits of the two Polish jazz prodigies he has living with him, or railing against cigarette ads in Time magazine. Either way, he’ll wind up laughing and poking you in the side until you crack up, too. It’s this infectious thrill for life that Steve Grover so expertly captures in the nine songs he has composed for Remember.

With his sunny outlook, and years of wisdom, Terry’s clarinet is not the flashy, rapid-fire display of a Benny Goodman. Rather it is a supple, pure tone, with smooth runs up and down the scale like water falling over steps. The beautiful interplay between Terry’s clarinet and Grover-veteran Frank Carlberg’s piano on “The Seventh String,” alternately in sync then moving to a sort of call and response, is exquisite and an inspired use of the instruments. Throughout the disc, these musicians exude a warmth for and understanding of each other that controls the mood of the music. From the opening waltz, “Beginning Again,” where Terry’s languid breaks recall strolling through crowded Manhattan streets on a bright fall afternoon, to the drum breaks on “Blues for the Bridge” that bring to mind Grover’s optimistic version of the military drum roll, the theme is a constant exuberance meted with the wisdom of past struggles. Ironically, the most melancholy of the pieces, “Theresa Minor,” features a bass solo by the young Chris Van Voorst Van Beest, whose improvisation is hungry and searching in contrast to Grover’s sophisticated confidence.

With Remember, Steve Grover has crafted a very personal and very enjoyable album.