Howard Riley/Barry Guy/John Stevens Organic

There is a great shortage of piano players that can convey melodic lyricism, while staying true to their improvisational roots the way Howard Riley can. Probably best known for his ’70s trio with Tony Oxley and Barry Guy (Flight) or his duo with Jaki Byard (Feathers with Jaki) or his occasional duos with Keith Tippett, Riley always struck me as a highly sensitive and intense improviser. This batch of reissues stands as a further testament of what I already knew. The Toronto Concert, recorded in 1977, is a fine example of what a great solo piano outing should sound like. Riley draws out his ideas in fine form in the course of two drawn out pieces. His style is certainly unique. Not unlike Cecil Taylor, the keys on his piano are like an orchestra. Reminding one of a hurricane one minute, while the next minute imitating the sounds of a fly. One never gets the feeling that this is only one man sitting alone on stage. The second release, Duality, recorded in 1981, suffers from only one drawback. The pieces here are of shorter length, constraining Riley’s forms to come fully through. His ideas are still expressed in the rather short recording, but one gets the sense that more could have been said. Finally, we come across what I would consider the strongest recording of this batch, Organic. This recording was made in 1979 and features the trio of Riley on piano, Barry Guy on bass, and percussionist John Stevens. The title of the record says it all. The music the listener is privileged to hear is just that; organic. Nothing sounds forced or coerced. No sound seems like it was practiced or contrived. Guy’s lush bass tones are an exceptional match to Riley’s light plucking, while Steven’s superlative touches on his cymbals make the whole into a truly magical experience. While all of these players have long histories behind them (Spontaneous Music Ensemble, London Jazz Composers Orchestra, etc.), they don’t bring any baggage with them. What they do bring is solid experience —something that comes from years of improvising. The only afterthought about Organic is the sad fact that more recordings from this trio will likely never see the light of day. (Jazzprint)