John Eyles, BBC Music
A great leap forward from the piano trio's debut, this is an absorbing collection.
The ever-rising number of piano trios, and the sheer quantity of albums released by them, make it increasingly difficult for anyone to stand out in this overcrowded field. Fortunately, the line-up of piano, bass and drums can accommodate a diversity of styles and approaches, giving fans of the genre plenty of choice. The process is almost Darwinian: to rise above the crowd, a trio has to evolve its own distinctive voice - survival of the fittest. All of which leads nicely to the Peter James Trio.
The group consists of James on piano, Jeremy Brown on double bass and Thomas Hooper on drums, all graduates of the Royal Academy of Music. Soul Story is their second album, following Visions and Vistas from 2009. While not a runaway hit, that debut received much praise and showed the trio to be a tight unit with many individual and collective strengths. In the years between the two albums, the group has evolved, building on those strengths and developing new ones, making Soul Story a quantum leap forward from its predecessor.
Fittingly, James is centre-stage throughout; his inventive, melodic playing flows, radiating such assurance and passion that it commands attention. For Soul Story he has occasionally added Hammond organ to complement his piano, broadening and deepening the trio's soundscape. James' playing is so rhythmic and propulsive that Brown and Hooper are not required to underpin the rhythm, which frees them to frame and augment the keyboards in other ways, leading to a trio of equal players whose empathy is all too obvious.
All 11 tracks are James compositions. Drawing on various influences, they combine strong melodies with a sense of freedom that allows for easy transitions between themes and solos without any clunky gear changes. At the heart of Soul Story is the title piece, a beautifully crafted four-part composition of great variety which exemplifies the qualities of James the composer and of the trio. Lasting close to 20 minutes, it is totally absorbing, centred on a series of prolonged piano solos, none of which contains a wasted note or an ounce of flab.
John Eyles, BBC Music, 19th September 2011 (review link)