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Melvoin trio’s dynamism is on full display

Special to The Times

Pianist Mike Melvoin’s latest recording, “It’s Always You,” includes the guest-star presence of veteran alto saxophonist Phil Woods. On Thursday, when Melvoin’s trio performed in the elegant, candlelit atmosphere of the Vic in Santa Monica, Woods was back in his Pennsylvania home.

But the dynamism of the Melvoin-Woods interaction was nonetheless frequently present in a program of tunes largely devoted to material from the CD.

Working with bassist Bruce Lett and drummer John Guerin, Melvoin kept the energy level dialed up, as simmering with vitality in up-tempo songs such as “All or Nothing at All” and “Easy to Love” as in the lyrical original ballad that is the album’s title song and the easy groove of another original, “Are You Going to Eat That?”

Like the album, the set benefited from a flowing interaction between standards and originals, with Melvoin’s brisk, articulate playing leading the way.

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If there was a problem, it was the tendency by the entire trio to rely on its solid professional expertise rather than dive into the sort of spirited adventurousness that characterizes Woods’ work on the album.

Occasional passages -- the opening half of Melvoin’s melodically inventive solo on “I’m Confessin’,” Lett’s bass solo on the climactic “There Is No Greater Love” -- displayed the attractive results that can happen when gifted veterans kick out the jams and let their imaginations fly.

A larger dose of such creative risk-taking would have transformed an undeniably entertaining set into something more -- something like a really memorable jazz experience.


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