Great jazz piano trios give the listener the best of many musical worlds: finely tuned arrangements, magnificent solo improvisations, big dynamic range from subtle lows to energized highs, and total spontaneous group communication giving them the ability to instantly respond to one another when new directions are chosen by one or two or all three of them.

The Emmet Cohen Jazz Trio with Kyle Poole on drums and Russell Hall on bass are definitely in the league of such great piano jazz trios as those of Tommy Flanagan, Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, and Nat King Cole, but they stand apart because of their wider scope of tune choices from early jazz to modern, and the abundance of intricate orchestrated backgrounds, interludes, time changes, and artful dynamic changes. They did all of this brilliantly while maintaining ease and enjoyment.

Cohen’s trio began swinging softly with Poole playing brushes, so we heard Hall’s bass lines and Cohen’s chords and melodies perfectly. All the tunes were unannounced and there were no program notes - but that didn’t matter one bit because they were so full of melodic and rhythmic contrasts. I had heard many of these tunes before but the only titles I knew were the second tune, “My Heart Stood Still” by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, the fifth tune, “If you Could See Me Now” by Tadd Dameron, and the ninth tune, “Somewhere over the Rainbow” by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg. You might wonder how exciting the evening could have been, since three of the total nine were tunes that are often played as ballads. But in the hands of Cohen’s trio, these ballads were expertly transformed into totally new vehicles with dynamic tempo changes, interesting interludes, intros and endings, volume changes, and great improvisations by all three.

I talked with bassist Hall after the concert and asked him the titles of the other tunes, all of which were thoroughly enjoyable. They were: “Time on My Hands,” by Vincent Youmans, “Antigua,” by Antonio Carlos Jobim, “If This Isn’t Love,” from Finian’s Rainbow by Burton Lane and Yip Harburg, “Fiesta Espagnol,” by Cedar Walton, and Cohen’s rousing original, “Toast to Low” (dedicated to the late drummer Lawrence Leathers). The encore, which was outstanding, was “Symphonic Raps” by Carroll Dickerson.

Cohen is a brilliant improviser. Every line he improvises, whether fast or slow, is melodic and logical. He often quotes other melodies. Some quotes I heard were, “Rockin’ in Rhythm,” “The Girl from Ipanema,” “Joy to The World,” and “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” His interpretation of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was beautiful. It seemed his solo was a constant spinning out of other melodies that he wove into the original tune. I’d have to say that every one of his improvisations was melodic and very exciting but at the same time easy to follow. You could often see him humming along with the lines he was improvising.

And just as brilliant were Hall and Poole. Hall’s solo on “Toast to Low” when he double-timed and played flawlessly through the whole range of the bass was especially captivating, and every one of Poole’s solos was a complete composition within itself as he would begin quietly and sparsely and develop into highly complex but still accessible rhythms.

Cohen talked to the audience only a little during the concert, but he did tell us about how the trio met. Hall grew up in Kingston, Jamaica and began playing bass at age 14, eventually moving to Miami where he met Cohen at the University of Miami. Poole, at the young age of 18, was leading the jazz jam session at Smalls in NYC where I guess Cohen went to jam when he was at Julliard - I think they told me they all went to Julliard at the same time. Cohen didn’t talk about himself at all, but after the concert I got to hang out with all three in their dressing room and I found out how soft spoken and peaceful Cohen is. I said to him that the fast-moving “Symphonic Raps” sounded like such a difficult piece and I asked how could he play it so easily and joyously. He calmly said, “I practiced that for about five years.” I also asked how he came up with such intricate orchestrations and he peacefully said that most of it has been spontaneously created on the band stand. Yes indeed, Cohen is a special jazz musician and a new force in the jazz world. I totally recommend everyone see him live, get his recordings, or watch his regular YouTube show Live at Emmet’s Place.

I heard their show along with a packed audience at the wonderful 250-seat concert hall, the Jazz Room at the Stage Door Theater in the Blumenthal Arts Center, in a presentation by JazzArts Charlotte. The hall gives everyone in the audience a perfect view of the stage, and they have an open bar and lit-up photos of jazz greats on all the walls and even above the stage. Prior to the main attraction, the JazzArts Charlotte All-Star Youth Quintet performed two jazz tunes. They are very advanced players for their age; four of them are high school sophomores. The only senior was their pianist and he is very good. He will be attending UNC Chapel Hill in the fall. Following their excellent performance, the emcee Curtis Davenport made us all feel very comfortable as he informed us of all the upcoming events and gave us background information about Emmet’s recordings and recent performances. He then introduced the President, CEO, and Co-founder of JazzArts Charlotte, Lonnie Davis, who graciously welcomed us all and announced that JazzArts has just been recognized as a winner of Charlotte’s 2022 Center City Vision Awards. Lonnie and her husband, Ocie Davis, are doing such a great service to jazz and the community.

The only negative comments I could make are that I felt the grand piano was overly amplified. I was sitting right next to the speaker (so that didn’t help) but Cohen also said it was too amplified. I do hope that can be adjusted for future performances. In addition, the slide presentation of jazz photographs right above the stage was a bit distracting for me. I was there to listen and watch the live musicians so I don’t think that was necessary. But, thanks again JazzArts Charlotte for a fabulous presentation by the Emmet Cohen Jazz Trio and for all you do to present great jazz.