The classical music press has often seemed suspicious of ensembles consisting of attractive, stylish young women. So this early record (1997) from the Eroica Trio was an important statement: It not only stakes out their musical territory, it also dispels any sense that the trio’s early success was based solely on their looks. That musical territory is explicitly mapped in the opening tracks, a convincing performance of trio arrangements of the Gershwin preludes, originally, for piano. These works take the sounds of American jazz and blues as a compositional given, a part of the music’s DNA. Arranged for the Eroica Trio, these familiar preludes benefit from the novel tone colors the violin and cello add. Their reading of the Ravel Piano Trio is at its best when it ignores the “Impressionist” tag so often applied to this composer and takes a more energetic approach, one in keeping with the vernacular music inflections that color so much of this album. So both “Pantoum” and the animated finale skip along brightly.
But the real winner here is the three-part Cafe Music, by Paul Schoenfield, a composer and arranger who has lived on a kibbutz in Israel and whose music echoes the wailing solos of the klezmer clarinet, the thrum of traditional American string music and the rhythmic vitality of jazz. CafÃ© Music‘s first movement could almost be a lost Gershwin prelude (of which, by the way, there are quite a few, some of them now rediscovered); the slow middle movement is a bluesy number, with the piano part reminiscent of what ragtime players used to call a slow drag; and the quicksilver finale echoes the sounds of Raymond Scott’s cartoon jazz of the ’30s and ’40s. Cafe Music is ingenious, original and a lot of fun, and the Eroicas play the hell out of it.