Herewith a recent chapter in the continuing world travels of world class pianist Mike Nock. Presently resident in Australia, he started out in New Zealand, then went, via Europe, to Boston’s Berklee School and from there, with Yusef Lateef, to New York, from whence to San Francisco and a great breaking of ground with The Fourth Way, then back to New York, making albums with the likes of Charlie Mariano, John Abercrombie and Michael Brecker, pulling some of their best work out of each. All this prior to assuming his current role as teacher at the Jazz Studies division of the Sydney Conservatorium and leading his own bands.
Pardon a clich*, but for Nock, it’s true: he’s been everywhere and done everything, and done it all quite well, usually ahead of trends. This suits him well; Nock is anything but trendy. He is his own man, takes his music seriously enough to not take himself too seriously, and knows that a true style of one’s own is never out of fashion.
The piano/bass/drums trio format is an ideal context for a versatile artist like Nock. It combines the intimacy of chamber music and solo settings with the collective interplay that’s always been at the heart of jazz at its best, a communal sharing process. Trio is not unfamiliar ground for Nock, nor are its sub-permutations: he made an outstanding duo album a while back with drummer Frank Gibson Jr. ("OPEN DOOR" on the New Zealand ODE label). Long before that, the first time I heard Nock play, at Sweet Basil in New York’s Greenwich Village, just a few days after Duke Ellington’s death, he was in duo with bassist Rick Laird.
His bandmates here stand him - and one another - in good stead. Their listening and their ideas encompass plenty of common ground which is anything but common. Bassist Anthony Cox, an Oklahoman now based in Minneapolis, is, like Nock, at home anywhere he makes music. He’s led albums and bands of his own, and is part another trio, RIOS, with Dino Saluzzi and David Friedman. Cox knows many facets of the jazz gem and polishes them all. Drummer Tony Reedus has ably provided percussive propulsion for many: I first heard him in the early 1980s with Woody Shaw’s quintet, and he’s been a busy man ever since - busy with gigs, not in his playing, which is an important distinction here. He can chill at will and knows when to do so.
One subject we can’t fail to address is the Bill Evans influence. It seems accurate to say that most any piano/bass/drums trio since the early 1960s which does not bear Evans* influence lacks it by intent (which is still an influence, albeit subtractive). To do so would be to forfeit much fertile ground, which these guys have not done. Nock and company revel in the Evans tradition in the best way: for them that heritage forms part of the foundation, and they don’t let it turn into barrier walls.
There’s plenty of profoundly introspective conversation here, most obviously in the free improvisations, but also in the composed pieces. They agree on mileposts to be passed, but if the music takes one of those unforeseen alternate routes, all are open to the journey itself becoming the destination. When they go walkabout, there is intent, and focus: introspective and thoughtful, yes; introverted or esoterically self-referencing, no, decidedly not.