April 15, 2019. On trumpeter Josh Lawrence’s latest, Triptych, it’s hard to see the forest through the "threes." Of the album’s 10 tracks, nine of them are divided into three distinct suites of three-movements apiece.
Musicians have always needed to know how to sub-divide; here, the task, if for just a moment, appears to fall to listeners, too. But, fear not, fellow mathemaphobics—the musicians do all the heavy lifting here, and they make it look—and sound—easy.
“We’re Happiest Together” is the opener, a casually brisk jazz waltz, the musical equivalent of a walk across Rittenhouse Square in spring jacket weather, hand-in-hand with the one who makes you happiest, a jazz brunch the destination.
The most atmospheric of Triptych’s tunes, Lawrence’s playing here, framed by Zaccai Curtis’s beautifully gentle piano accompaniment, communicates contentment, a blissful and languid resignation to sit around and pick at eggs benedict long past the point they’ve gone cold, maybe read the Sunday Times into the late afternoon. Combine with “Sugar Hill Stroll” and “Sunset in Santa Barbara,” for a trio of tunes that Lawrence might later consider renaming le suite insouciance. No need for royalties, Josh—first one’s free.
It doesn’t take long, however, for things to get serious. The triumvirate of tunes that follows, collectively titled Lost Works, comprises the first of the aforementioned suites. “Composition #1” announces almost immediately that we’re dealing with different, more exigent, circumstances—circumstances born out of the Philly style hard-bop Josh Lawrence was reared on at University of the Arts.
Egalitarian and solo-driven, Caleb Curtis (no relation to Zaccai or his brother, the bassist, Luques, who also plays on the record) distinguishes himself here with an improvisational style on alto saxophone that recalls how Cannonball once sounded alongside Nancy Wilson.
Triptych’s final three-movement suite is a tribute to one or some combination of three things: the natural earth, the famed 1970s horn band (whose “That’s the Way of the World” is covered on the final track), or an environmentally-conscious 1990s animated TV series for kids. I’d like to think Earth Wind Fire is a combination of all three. The first two are no-brainers and the third—well, Lawrence is a child of the ‘90s, after all.
The highlight is “Wind,” and with this one, the target of the tribute is clear. “Wind” is basically Ahmad Jamal’s “Poinciana” 2.0: now with muted trumped! Derivative? Perhaps. Doesn’t make it any less delightful. Drummer Anwar Marshall plays Vernel Fournier with such striking similarity you might think Anwar sat in all those years ago at the Cadillac Club while Vernel was off taking a bathroom break. The result is a sound so airy, so crisp, and so clean that even Captain Planet would have to approve.