Jazz, funk, fusion and power trios hold a unique place in my view. Out of necessity, each player needs to be exceptionally strong and bring a depth of sound as there’s little margin for error. Two of the more recent memorable trios are Medeski, Martin and Wood and Soulive. Here’s a brief rundown of twelve (ok, thirteen) terrific trios, most of whom I’ve been able to see and record and I’d highly recommend each one for your playlist.
Consider the Source is the ultimate power trio with Gabe on double neck fretted and fretless guitar, John an unbelievable force on bass and Jeff masterfull on drums. Gabe can simulate multiple instruments on through his effects including trumpet, flute, and vibes. John’s solos are freaky fast and his fingerwork is unbelievable. And Jeff is a furious pacemaker throughout. CTS is probably the most technically proficient amazing trio you’ll ever see.
GoGo Penguin is a unique piano trio formed in 2012 in Manchester, England. Their sound defies any one conventional category as they cross between jazz, classical, funk, electronic, trance and hypnotic. I got hooked on them about four years ago when their third album Man Made Object came out. Now they’ve just released their fifth album with the eponymous title, GoGo Penguin. They’re not really a “power” trio but their work is amazing because at times it can seem “orchestral.” The group is comprised of pianist Chris Illingworth, bassist Nick Blacka, and drummer Rob Turner.
Bill Laurance is one of the original keyboardists of Snarky Puppy and has released four studio albums and three live albums, the most recent a live trio at Ronnie Scott’s in London. Bill is probably the most evocative pianist in recent memory making every note sound like a story unto itself. The trio format is especially indicative of his emotional touch. I’ll be reviewing that album soon in contrast to his prior live album with the WDR Big Band.
Shaun Martin Three-0 — Shaun is another Snarky Puppy keyboardist who has a remarkable range and has put out two studio albums with a third Three-0 coming out shortly. He’s equally adept at piano and synth and also has made his mark with the voicebox on a number of songs. His tune The Yellow Jacket from the album 7 Summers has nearly 3 million views on YouTube and I can’t wait to give a listen to the newest real soon.
House of Waters – Ever since seeing House of Waters at the first GroundUP Music Festival, I was captivated. After all, how many “power” trios comprised of hammered dulcimer, 6-string bass and drums have you heard? Their sound and virtuosity are totally unique and incredible. Max ZT is called the “Jimi Hendrix” of the hammered dulcimer. Crazily enough, I got to catch two of their shows in one week in July 2019 and then two more in September 2019 when they opened for Snarky Puppy. Here’s their September Birmingham in its entirety.
Jonathan Scales Fourchestra is now a trio with Scales, a virtuoso steel pan player, as the leader with Maison Guidry on drums and E’Lon JD on bass. I just love the fusion sound he puts out often with a mystical sound as opposed to traditional Caribbean sounds with pans. His 2018 album Pillar features a ton of special guests including Bela Fleck and Shaun Martin. He followed that up with Mindstate Music, a steel pan orchestra, another thing you rarely see or hear. The traveling trio is great aural experience, different from most anything you’ll hear on the scene today.
Moon Hooch is the only group with two saxophone players Wenzl McGowen and Michael Wilbur and drummer Ethan Snyder (who replaced James Muschler seen in this 2019 video). Originally from Brooklyn they starting by busking around New York City. The Moon Hooch sound is very unique as McGowen and Wilbur each take turns on lead with a variety of wind instruments ranging from standard saxes to baritones, double baritones, traffic cone amplified saxes and other unique sounds. Their music which has has charted on Billboard’s Jazz Albums is a mix of funk, jazz, dance, house and even classical occasionally in their solos. Both Wilbur and McGowen are perpetual motion on stage but Wilbur is especially entertaining with his stomping, high jumps and hijinks on stage. Another favorite site is when the two duet and play off each other for a scintillating blend of sax sounds. Have a look and a listen!
Too Many Zooz grew out of the busking scene in New York City subways and they play a unique style of brass-house music. The group is “Leo P” Pellegrino (baritone saxophone), Matt “Doe” Muirhead (trumpet) and David “King of Sludge” Parks (drums). The music is high energy funk and house with touches of EDM. Leo P is a nonstop dancing machine throughout their live performance with James Brown-like moves and then some. They’ve arrived having come a long way from busking to headlining national tours and picking up slots at major festivals like Hulaween in Live Oak, Florida.
The White Blinds formed in December 2015 and started started doing a monthly at a small Cuban restaurant called Mambos Cafe in Glendale CA, owned by a friend Michael Duffy, the band’s drummer. According to Duffy, “We started with a slew of covers until we found our sound as a trio. From the monthly we started to play around LA, SF and San Diego, opening for bands like Jungle Fire, Sure Fire Soul Ensemble and Matador Soul Sounds.
He continued, “In February of 2018 we walked into Rich Uncle Studios in Venice CA and recorded “Get To Steppin” all live on the floor no click, no headphones and no overdubs. We went straight to tape for that old school sound.” They’re coming out with an new EP soon and glass to feature the tune “Muddy Water” here.
The Shu Shus – Last year I reviewed The Shu Shu’s debut Soul Slap.As the narrative in their initial video “Grease the Chain” says, the group “take you back to the 60s with their authentic organ trio combo sound. Inspired by Memphis blues, New Orleans funk and east coast organ jazz, the trio make good time music to put a smile on your face and ants in your pants.”
The Barcelona based group has been playing together for 10 years but just recently settled in on the sound you’ll hear on Soul Slap. The group is comprised of Abel Boquera – Hammond Organ, Caspar St. Charles – Drums and Dave Wilkinson – Guitar .
Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio, sometimes referred to, DLO3—specialize in the lost art of “feel good music” according to their website. The group is a classic organ tril with Delvon on B3, Jimmy James on guitar, and Dan Weiss on drums. I got hip to Delvon I saw them three times in a a week, opening for Lettuce twice and headlining at Atlanta’s Terminal West. I became a fast fan as their driving riffs are evocative of the organ greats like Booker T. Jones and Jimmy Smith. Jimmy James brings that real old school Memphis soul to the table and the mix is intoxicating. I was looking forward to seeing them 2X at Suwannee Rising which was cancelled but hope to catch them next year.
Space Kadet is an up and coming trio out of Atlanta playing space funk and jamtronica. The group is Alex ‘Bambi’ Etheridge on bass, synth and production, Rohan Prakash on drums and samples and Thomas Garrett on guitar.
The band is driven by Rohan’s hypnotic pounding with Tommy and Alex offering jams that can ride with the best including Lotus, STS9 and Papadosio. Rohan has sat in with several national acts like Lotus, high honors indeed. The group has been touring nationally and has risen to festival circuit showcasing their chops recently at Hulaween 2019.
Hot Club of Cowtown the only group here without drums and that’s due to their lineage from the hot club music of Django Reinhardt, a Belgian-born Romani-French jazz guitarist and violinist Stéphane Grappelli. HCC out of Austin Texas calls their music hot jazz and western swing. The trio consists of Elana James on fiddle and vocals, Whit Smith on guitar and vocals and Jake Erwin on slap bass and vocals. Each player is unique and mesmerizing in their own right. Elana’s fiddle playing has no speed regulator as evidenced in the Orange Blossom Special tune that is their signature encore song. In addition, she’s got some of the sweetest pipes you’ll ever hear. Whit is great on both lead, as an accompanist or soloing and brings that real cowboy feel to his vocals. Jake is a force of nature on the slap bass. Watching and listening to him perform is amazing as it can be hard to connect what you’re seeing and hearing because his skills are so high. Have a listen and catch them live sometime – you won’t be disappointed.