Billy Lester Trio’s “Italy 2016” showcases well-crafted jazz

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Pianist Billy Lester met his trio mates, Marcello Testa and Nicola Stranieri in Italy during a tour in 2014. The three played together and toured before recording the CD in 2016. “Italy 2016” is a brief album of six songs that demonstrates the craftsmanship that the three musicians bring to jazz.

About Billy Lester

Billy Lester is a music educator with a firm grounding in jazz standards and the Great American songbook. During his formative years in Yonkers, New York, Lester began to master the piano at an age when most children are learning to count.

Lester’s early musical influences were Art Tatum, Charlie Parker, Roy Eldridge, Bud Powell and Louis Armstrong. He ended up formalizing his education at Manhattan School of Music.

With the pianist’s solid musical background, it would seem that Lester would be prolific–producing album after album in rapid succession. Instead, in the past two decades, Lester has only released six albums. Despite this, Lester has cultivated an ardent group of followers who patiently await his next release.

Lester is known for playing that evokes jazz greats, while maintaining a signature style. His work has earned Lester awards and accolades from publications such as Jazz Times, and other American and European magazines. Lester has also garnered a positive mention on NPR’s annual jazz critics poll.

While bassist Marcello Testa and drummer Nicola Stranieri might be less well-known than Lester in the US, their reputations in Europe are better developed. The bassist and drummer are considered two of the best rhythm players in Europe. On “Italy 2016” they combine with Lester to form the Billy Lester Trio.

Soundscape of “Italy 2016”

The first track on “Italy 2016” is the buoyant and engaging “An Evening With Friends.” There is a great deal of energy given off during the song, and it seems too much for a trio to accomplish.

To his credit, Lester makes it sound as if a few different people are playing the piano. There are two piano motifs. One is jaunty and spirited, and the other a bit slower. They wrap around and weave in between the bass and drum. The bass is showcased, and suddenly the song is quiet except for brushed drums and the occasional piano chord for texture.

The song seems to illustrate the waxing and waning of activity during an evening spent socializing. Over halfway through, the drums get louder and begin to shine. They are no longer brushed, but sound as though they are played traditionally. The effective clatter created by drums adds to the dynamics provided by the rest of the instrumentation.

“Pop Pop Train”

Even faster than “An Evening With Friends.” “Pop Pop Train” starts out with a hyper speed piano riff racing around the bass and drums. However, this time, the rhythm section does not play slower. The bass runs furiously through its notes, and the drums are so meshed into the overall sound that it is difficult to find them with the occasional crash of cymbal.

As in other Lester songs, the drums shine when they are showcased. The level of virtuosity displayed during the fast sections is mind-blowing. Despite the velocity, the rhythm never falls apart. The song swings and has fun, and invites listeners along for the ride.

“Italy 2016” will be available Nov. 3, 2017.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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