In the Bubble is indeed a bubbly tribute to tasty, straight-ahead trio jazz. The tunes bounce and float from her piano, kept above ground by the swinging tailwind of her rhythm section: Gordon Johnson on bass and, depending on the tune, either Phil Hey, Greg Schutte or Craig Hara on drums.
The record offers a balance of standards and originals by Knutson, carrying us from classic to modern. The opening track, "It Could Happen To You," teases with an up-tempo intro suggesting a bop-oriented burner, but then surprises with a break into a half-time latin swing. Another highlight is "You Are My Sunshine/Luminous;" Knutson opens with a beautiful version of the old familiar melody on solo piano, the rhythm section kicks in for a few more choruses of melody, and then the trio transitions into a freshly-written bridgeâ€•"Luminous"â€•penned by Knutson. Knutson's originals, like "Sea of Qi" and "Talk to Me," strike a more modern, flowing, open style that is reminiscent of Pat Metheny's pioneering prairie jazz. The title cut, "In the Bubble," follows more conventional swing lines and could easily be a trio standard heard in any jazz club. For a nice close-your-eyes-and-melt-in-your-chair ballad, listen to Knutson's mellifluous version of Brandt & Haymes standard "That's All."
One of the endearing aspects of Mary Louise Knutson's playing is that she sounds so very unpretentious (perhaps the fruit of her midwestern upbringing?). You have the sense that her technical chops are there but largely kept in reserve, in favor of music that is pretty instead of pompous, in the same way Beegie Adair plays on her numerous dinner / cocktail jazz records. Just as an attractive person is said to be "easy on the eyes," Knutson's music is "easy on the ears" and should bring a smile to your face.