Tom McClung ‘Burning Bright’ (Archieball) 4/5

tom-mcclungTom McClung’s piano style is full of colour, imagination and expression. Born in New York in 1957, McClung paid his jazz dues over many years, settling in New England and becoming a sought after musician with, among others, Bobby McFerrin, James Cotton, Yusef Lateef and Bo Diddley calling on his services. These days he resides in Paris and works regularly on the international stage with Archie Shepp. “Burning Bright” is McClung’s sixth release as a leader or co-leader and he is joined on this excellent trio outing by Matyas Szandai on bass and Mourad Benhammou on drums. McClung is a very versatile pianist and seems just as at home performing folk and avant-garde as he does with bebop, salsa and blues.
“Burning Bright” is filled with inventive, expressive playing from all three musicians. McClung may lead the trio, but the importance and contribution of both bassist Szandai and drummer Benhammou cannot be underestimated. They add energy and creativity in spades, especially Szandai with his bass solos standing out as one of the highlights of this recording. Eleven tracks see the trio crossing many genres, making for an interesting and at times captivating listening experience. The opening tune “Terra” and the gorgeous “The Source” are reminiscent of a free flowing, lyrical EST. Beautifully interwoven themes and patterns are accentuated with some eloquent playing from McClung. “Fire Waltz” has a touch of the Dave Brubecks and develops into a platform for this wonderful pianist to express himself to the full with some mesmerising soloing. The title track “Burning Bright” along with the tracks “There You Go” and “Minor Deeds” bring to mind the legendary (in this writer’s mind at least) Japanese pianist Ryo Fukui with their infectious energy and uncompromising spirit. Brilliant playing from a trio truly performing at their peak. There are many changes of pace and style throughout this album and this is perhaps more evident than anywhere else on the wonderful “In The Woods”, the trio here serving up a slightly avant-garde piece that wouldn’t be out of place on a Bobo Stenson Trio ECM release.
Wonderful interaction and touch from the three performers. McClung lets the emotion pour out on the lovely “Noctilucent”, an emotionally engaging composition. Whilst a more easy-going, bluesy feel is captured on “Last of The Wild” and “La Manzana” with its Latin inflected rhythms.

In summary, “Burning Bright” is a wholly satisfying listen. Outstanding in many parts, with surprises a-plenty along the way. It’s rare to hear a trio covering so much ground in one album and for the most part it just keeps giving the more it plays. Highly recommended.

Mike Gates