Rich Corpolongo Trio - Review

Category: Music

I confess that I’d never heard of Rich Corpolongo until last week. The Chicago-based tenorman playing, in this instance, on the venerable Delmark label, doesn’t appear to be widely known, and that’s a real shame. His new album is the Rich Corpolongo Trio ‘Get Happy’.

A cynic might tell you that this is the best record Sonny Rollins hasn’t made since ‘Way Out West’, way back in 1959. Yes, Mr. Corpolongo wears his heroes openly, and there’s nothing really groundbreaking about the music here, but there is always something compelling about a musician who plays beautifully with a competent band on an excellent set of songs. After all, it’s perfectly respectable for classical music. If you like records like the aforementioned ‘Way Out West’ (and really, who doesn’t) this is a record worth checking out.

Getting the hi-fi bits out of the way first: This album was recorded live to two-channel with just two strategically placed microphones capturing the action. In this instance the technique doesn’t make for the most detailed recording – the bass sounds a little reticent and muddled – but if does make for a very natural and immediate recording that really does sound like three guys blowing a room. It’s as close as you’re going to get to “live” except without the audience. The drums are well receded into the sound stage and convey the echo of the room well, and the horn is captured beutifully. In some respects the soundstage effect reminds me of the recording setup on Thelonius Monk’s “Monk’s Music”, which as an early stereo recording was also recorded with two mics hanging from the ceiling, and that’s not a bad thing. Maybe you lose a bit of the solidity you get with a close-mic, but you get huge gains in soundstage and naturalness.

The tenor, bass, drums trio is my personal favorite jazz lineup. A good horn player can use the format to make his instrument truly large, filling melodic openings with the dense reedy sound and showing off the deep tonal colors that the tenor saxophone is capable of. Not everyone who tries this format is equally successful. Happily, this album pulls it off really well.

There’s not a bad track on the album, but to me the real standout is the old war-horse ‘Body an Soul’. Mr. Corpolongo just really captures the blue soul of the song, with limited statement of the melody and wonderful deep improvising. Even the title track ‘Get Happy’, which has serious schmaltz potential, is handled without getting bogged down in the syrupy whistle-along melody, instead favoring first-rate up-tempo improvising by the leader, Dan Shapera on bass, and finally an explosive drum stretch by Rusty Jones. This album is really well done all the way around.