Bruce Lindsay, All About Jazz
Soul Story is the second album from the Peter James Trio, and it's an outstanding work. Its combination of superb musicianship and keyboardist James' beautifully-crafted tunes ensures that the band can lay claim to a place in the top flight of piano trios. The passion and melodic sensibility displayed across the album further strengthens this claim.
All three musicians studied together during the early '90s at the Royal Academy of Music in London, and their mutual understanding and empathy comes over strongly. Soul Story follows on from the Trio's 2008 debut, Visions And Vistas (Mulberry Tree Music), and the additional experience gained over the intervening years is put to good use by each member of the group. James is the composer, but bassist Jeremy Brown and drummer Thomas Hooper do much to give the music life. The result is a genuine ensemble recording.
The trio is equally adept at upbeat tunes with a swing and slower, more reflective, numbers. "Everyday Mountains" and "Warmth Of The Morning Sun" showcase the musicians' gentler side. So, too, does the delightful "If The Hills Told Their Secrets," an excellent example of the trio's strength as an ensemble. It begins with Brown's melodic but melancholy arco bass, Hooper driving the rhythm with relaxed but commanding percussion, and James adding to the tune's rich sound with some understated Hammond organ. "Walk In The Park"--named, according to James, because of its relatively straightforward nature, when compared to most of the album--has a feel-good, bluesy, New Orleans sensibility. This time, Brown combines melody with a funky groove, while Hooper keeps time with militaristic flair.
The central composition is "Soul Story," a 20-minute suite in four parts. "Soul Story (intro)" is a solo piano piece, James' strong left hand rhythm giving the tune toughness, while never obscuring the beauty of the melody. Hooper then kicks "Soul Story (part 1)" up a gear with some emphatic percussion, while James adds a gospel feel on Hammond. The up-tempo, lyrical, "Soul Story (part 3)" brings the suite to a positive conclusion.
"Soul Story" is a beautiful album, a gem that shines bright even among the many talented piano trios in contemporary British jazz. James' compositions are strongly melodic, imaginative and evocative, and The Peter James Trio a band with high musical ambitions--and the talent to achieve them.
Bruce Lindsay All About Jazz, October 2011 (review link)