Dana Reason Trio in Oregon

Dana Reason Trio — Revealed (Circumvention, 2009)

(Alert if you’re in Oregon: The trio is playing twice this weekend:

You can judge a CD by its cover. That’s one thing I’ve learned working at a radio station. Ninety percent of the time, when you see the cover art, you’ve got a good idea what the CD is going to sound like.

This is actually not shocking. Think about it: They pick the cover art for a reason.

So here we have pianist Dana Reason, looking all friendly and relaxed and at-home on her new piano trio CD, evoking comforting, gentle images.

But wait a minute — isn’t this the same Dana Reason who used to live in the Bay Area, who dragged dry ice across piano strings, who made a CD of abstract sound sculptures with Peter Valsamis? Who toured with Pauline Oliveros and Philip Gelb in the placid but abstract improvising trio The Space Between?

You bet!

“Transition” opens the CD with an abrupt, galloping free jazz. John Heward is slashing and banging on drums from the get-go, Dominic Duval is pumping out some high-pressure bass walking, and Reason, on piano, is dancing hyperkinetically up and down the board.  “Let’s Talk” is in the same vein, brisk and alive.

It’s on the next two tracks — and really, throughout more than half the album’s running time — that the warm cover photos seem apt.  “Revealed,” one of three Reason compositions, is drifting and gossamer, with abstract notes and dissonant harmonies that float on the air but aren’t left to linger very long. It evokes a slow feeling, even though Reason plays in an assertive voice and Duval’s bass is actually going quite fast. It’s relaxing but active, always adapting, and never settling on cloying treacle. (If only new age music were more like this.)

The album closes in a like vein with the thoughtfully moody “Dance of the Bass, Part 2.”  Crystalline drizzles of notes with lots of sustain, played under gnarled bass soloing that eventually coalesces into a catchy backing riff.

I know an album like this is a trio effort, with emphasis on the group, but it also happens to be a terrific piano album. The pieces and improvisations would sound grand in the resonant acoustics of a church, but they’re also intimate enough for a coffeehouse setting.  If you’re up for a three-hour round-trip drive, you have it both ways.