Julian Waterfall Pollack is a keeper. Though in his early 20s, he already has enough technique and imagination to hold attention, and he swings with the best. The opening, "Summertime," demonstrates all of the above. After a slow bluesy statement of the melody, there's a repeat in double-time with insistent single-note harmony in the left hand. Double-time prevails. Runs flash by. The left hand challenges the right in a fugal pattern with cross rhythms. Your foot needs to tap, but may not be able to keep up.
What follows proves the first track was no fluke. Pollack turns the Beatles' "And I Love Her" into a jazz standard. It's taken at a leisurely tempo. The bass has the first melodic statement with tasteful support from the piano and brushes on a snare. The piano has the bridge, the bass returns with the main melody, then Pollack takes off again. The drums start pushing. The tempo stays the same, but the intensity builds beautifully until the gentle tune has turned into a joyful swinging romp. Pollack closes it out with a restatement of the theme first played by the bass. Again, classical training shines through as he turns to a Bach-like treatment before the final statement. A lovely, unexpected arpeggiated chord adds a quiet exclamation point.
"Blue's Knot," a Pollack original, swings furiously most of the way. Drummer Evan Hughes cuts the frenzy with a nicely musical solo that shows he belongs. The trio members are all around the same age. They became friends in Berkeley, California, where Pollack, while a high school student, recorded his first album. Like attracts like, and in this case, that means chops attract chops.
"Cherokee" is another burner, and again, one that begins quietly, builds, eases back with unusual phrasing and harmonizing of the main line, then finishes with a rush.
I thought I'd never need another version of "My Funny Valentine." Pollack makes it fresh with a plain, gentle statement of the melody, new voicings and a light bossa-nova beat. When he makes a standard like this his own, it's hard to believe he isn't 30-years older than his bio says he is.
Half the tunes are originals—equally well arranged and played, competitive with many from better known composers, but not likely to become standards. Good to know there's one area the formidable young man isn't making his elders look bad. "Death of Hamlet" is the most unusually original. The arrangement is mainstream, but the melody has echoes of Chopin nocturnes. It is wistfully ironic and attractive. That doesn't stop him from swinging and turning funky in a couple of choruses before closing quietly.
Infinite Playground is likely to make my top 10 for the year—top three for piano trios. Highly recommended. Julian Waterfall Pollack will be around for a long time.