The take-no-prisoners approach of the opening track seems to convey only one message: make no mistake, the jazz piano trio is still alive and… kicking ass. The song, the exuberant Latin Cherish your Sunshine, is characterized by a mercurial melody that slithers, full of catch-me-if-you-can bravura, along the bar-lines. When, in the ‘tutti’, the theme is finally caught by the expertly chasing rhythm section, the listener cannot feel anything but joy.
It’s the same joy that the Michiel Borstlap Trio - Boudewijn Lucas: electric bass, Erik Kooger: Drums - experienced whilst recording the album. “Some people claim that the jazz piano trio format has been squeezed dry. We most certainly do not agree with that misconception, and that’s what 88 is all about.”
Being asked if there is, apart from the ‘keeping-the-trio-alive attitude’, a concept underpinning the lush musical structures of his latest album, Borstlap figures the title 88 says it all. The pianist is still in thrall of the grand old lady’s ebony and ivory touch. “88 refers to the number of keys on a full scale piano, so you might say the concept is the piano itself. I’m still mesmerized by its possibilities in the broadest sense.” Borstlap’s fascination, as you can spot in his playing, doesn’t restrict itself to the jazz-only area. “More often than not recordings of classical virtuosos in the league of Svjatoslav Richter can be found on my turntable at home,” he confides. “For me listening to these masters, is a way to refine my technique in order to augment my expressiveness and eloquence on the instrument. If you were to ask a number of pianists to press the same key, the produced tone would sound more or less the same. So you have to dig real deep to make a difference.”
And a difference he makes. Standing, literally and figuratively, tall between his peers Michiel Borstlap epitomizes modern Dutch jazz piano. On this recording he even ventures beyond the restrictions of the grand piano by reintroducing the Fender Rhodes electric piano, an instrument Borstlap hasn’t been heard on for quite a while. “Blame it on the ‘grand old lady’, ”the pianist chuckles, “ I guess she put a spell on me, but having said that I must admit it was nice to rediscover that I really can do my own thing on the Rhodes as well.” Listening to a track like Lexington it becomes clear that his confession is a bit of an understatement. Propelled by an extremely funky rhythm section Borstlap makes the Rhodes squeak, groan and growl like he’s been playing the damn thing for decades in a row.
Still there’s more to Michiel Borstlap’s musicality than ‘just’ tickling the ivories. In 1996 he attained world wide exposure by winning the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition with Memory of Enchantment, a piece the laureate revisits on this recording. It’s the only quintet-track on the album featuring trumpeter Ruud Breuls and guitarist Jerome Hol. The hypnotic, stretched-out melody hovering above the brooding bass-line gives the whole thing an other-worldly quality, transforming the composition into something completely new. But that’s not all: by means of the other six self-penned songs, Borstlap proves that the author of Memory of Enchantment wasn’t just another one-hit wonder.
Another exception to the trio-format is the live solo piece You Know I Do, a real tour the force showcasing the pianist’s ability to evoke a quatre mains sound pallet with just two hands. As the title may suggest the most forward-looking track of 88 is Live DJ. Equally at ease in remembering past-masters like Ron Carter (Third Plane) and Cole Porter (Just one of those Things), Borstlap establishes himself as a visionary of contemporary jazz. “We wanted to find out if we could do something modern without the use of deejays, samples or beats,” he explains.” I don’t want to speak in a disparaging way about deejays, on the contrary: some of them are really very good. But the fact that most of the stuff they do, is put together in the studio, makes their live performances somewhat predictable. A guy fiddling with some knobs en levers provokes just not the same vibe as a live band playing their asses off.” The afore mentioned quality makes Live DJ one of the most exciting tracks of the album. No sampled loop equals Boudewijn Lucas’ repetitive yet organic bass-line; no beat-maker ‘beats’ Erik Koogers superb drumming. So all of you who still think the piano trio is helplessly passé: take a load of this. 88 might just be the thing you’re looking for.