There are so many potential pitfalls that can occur when one tries to record a live date, it’s obvious why so few jazz recordings are done in this situation. Unfortunately, a few of those potential hazards rear their ugly head and diminish the work done by the Steve Elmer Trio on this recording.
Recorded on June 10, 2010 at Cleopatra’s Needle in New York, a restaurant and no-cover jazz club named after the famed monument in New York’s Central Park, the piano used for this recording is a bit out of tune. Sometimes it’s not that bad, but it’s really noticeable on big block chords and when Elmer plays octaves in the upper register with his right hand. During those times, this problem is rather distracting. The second foible is that the dinner crowd is louder than on most live recording dates, and they don’t really seem to be there for the music as witnessed by only the small smattering of applause rising from their ranks following each tune.
Pianist and composer, Elmer began his musical training as a drummer. After earning a Music Education Bachelor’s degree from Hofstra, then a Masters in Music Composition from Queens College, Elmer switched from drums to piano at the age of 25. To aid his abilities, Elmer took lessons from the great Lennie Tristano. After six years of jazz study, Elmer switched and began to take classical lessons from Arminda Canteros and Jon Verbalis. In 1991, Elmer changed his style again and created a group called the Jazz Mentality that included Chris Potter on saxophones, Myles Weinstein on drums and Ralph Hamperian on bass.
Since the breakup of that group, Elmer has formed a new trio and they are featured on this recording. Joined by bassist Hide Tanaka and drummer Shingo Okudaira on drums, this group has now been together for six years. Jazz Life is their third recording and features seven extended tunes, all composed by Elmer. Generally, they all fall into the same mid-tempo, modernish swing style.
That Elmer has chops is undeniable, but this recording is not really the best place one can go to hear him show off those abilities. Besides the occasional missed note, the sameness of the repertoire doesn’t give Elmer a lot of room to demonstrate his full range. Okudaira has a lovely feel, especially in his cymbal work, and Tanaka has a solid feel for time. If one is looking to examine the work of Elmer, there are better places to start.