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Friday, February 24, 2012

Billy Bean, "The Trio Rediscovered"

Billy Bean
"The Trio Rediscovered"

Riverside (1961)
1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die

Tom Moon spends a good chunk of his entry on jazz guitarist Billy Bean by explaining the aura of mystery that surrounds him. He wasn't a legendary, Robert Johnson-esque character, but rather one of the thousands of musicians who turn up on an album before riding off into the sunset. "The Trio Rediscovered" wasn't Bean's only recording session, far from it, but it was his closest encounter with the limelight. Even so, finding this album can be a chore.

The first issue is finding an album titled "The Trio Rediscovered" listed under the name "Billy Bean." It doesn't exist. Moon listed the album under Bean's name because he chose the recording to highlight Bean's guitar playing, as opposed to the group as a whole. In fact, the band wasn't actually called "The Trio." It was actually "The Hal Gaylor Trio," but Riverside Records opted for the simpler and sexier "The Trio." Gaylor was the group's bassist, but unlike say, Charles Mingus, despite having his name on the band, he avoids solo passages (in fact, his playing is rather rough). Instead, Bean and pianist Walter Norris handle most of the fun stuff.

That's another issue if you're coming to "Rediscovered" after reading Moon's entry and expecting a headlining display from Bean. It would be a liberal estimate to suggest that he even gets a 50 percent share of the album time. Based on his discography alone, Bean never aspired to playing sold out shows and probably gave no complaint to Norris' more frequent soloing. Norris isn't bad, somewhat similar to the cool jazz style of Vince Guaraldi, but Moon is right; Bean should be the star.

Unfortunately, the opening (and shortest) track, "Motivation," is the only place on the album where the guitarist gets most of the attention. Although there is a brief piano solo, the extended opening and closing portions of the song are dedicated to his fretwork. Bean's style adheres to the qualities of many a classic jazz guitar. For one, his playing is smoother than a vanilla milkshake. Secondly, and more importantly, jazz guitar is almost a constant series of small improvisations, rather than being based on rhythm and riffs. Bean is a melody-minded person, and you can hear it in his playing. "Have You Met Miss Jones?" and "Porgy and Bess (Medley)" demonstrate his ability to jump around one theme without going off the deep end. For someone more familiar with rock music, you can compare Bean with the riff-work of someone like Stevie Ray Vaughn as a reference point.

"The Trio Rediscovered" is a fun album even if it doesn't allow all that much breathing room for Bean. The recording quality is questionable in a fun way (you can hear one of the musicians breathing deep and/or clearing his throat throughout) and it's just rare enough to make you hip for knowing about it.

INTERESTING FACT: Bean, being of such little renown, made for finding an interesting fact difficult. It is both unfortunate and interesting that Mr. Bean died earlier this month, Feb. 6 2012, of natural causes in his Philadelphia home at the age of 78.

"Groove Yard" (This was the only track available on YouTube. It'd be more worthwhile to download "Motivation" if you can)

1 comment:

  1. Look for the recordings, rehearsal tapes that John Pisano preserved. Makin' It Again, and West Coast Sessions. Mostly Bean playing with Pisano in the latter's LA kitchen in the late 50's, but some group things, a couple with Dennis Budimir. Quality is good, or good enough to clearly hear Bean's big fat sound, clearly articulated, long, inventive, melodic lines. He takes chorus after inventive chorus on Have You Met...; I Love You; and on Airegin, The Hippy (Silver).