John Yao’s Triceratops
How We Do
See Tao Recordings.
John Yao’s latest group takes its name from the legendary dinosaur with three horns. It’s an almost puny way to describe a group with a front line composed of alto sax, trombone and tenor sax. Standard bass and drums hold down the bottom end, with no piano or guitar is sight to hold down the chord structure. That choice is characteristic of Yao’s compositional style. He likes to self-imposed limitations that force him to try different ways to get his ideas across.
The opening track on How We Do is called “Three Parts as One.” It’s a title that also serves as a mission statement for the album. Yao’s songs are constructed around the three part unison line he plays with saxophonists, Billy Drewes and Jon Irabagon. Each of the triumvirate have moments to shine. “Circular Path” let’s each player take a chorus as the band morphs from a trombone to a saxophone trio to arrive at that three as one sound by the end. Overall, the songs have strong, post-bop influence, occasionally letter moments of skronkier free playing let loose. How We Do has a great, spacious, sound that is familiar enough sounding to not scare NPR listeners at pledge time, while still having some tricks in the rhythms and melodies to keep a jaded old geezer like me engaged.