Three's No Crowd -- For versatile jazz pros, personal expression comes in TRIPLICATE
Tom Surowicz
The Villager

My Irish grandmother used to believe that bad things came in threes. However, she never had the pleasure of hearing TRIPLICATE, a Twin Cities trio of experienced, savvy and hip young jazz pros. Their sound is a decidedly good thing.

TRIPLICATE is composed of guitarist Joel Shapira of Merriam Park, bass player Bruce "Pooch" Heine of Minneapolis' Longfellow neighborhood and drummer Dave Stanoch of Minnetonka. Together, the three men have enough credits for two movies. They have worked with garage rock and blues bands, toured with Broadway musicals and performed on Caribbean cruise ships. They all teach music, perform in other combos, do private parties and weddings, and accompany singers.

Stanoch and his wife, singer-songwriter Katy Tessman, run their own CD label, Rhythmelodic Records. Stanoch has also taught at Music Tech in downtown Minneapolis for the past decade.

Shapira studied at the fabled Berklee College of Music in Boston and played jazz in the Big Apple for five years before coming home to roost in Minnesota. He also teaches guitar at Water Music in Stillwater and at the Rymer Academy of Fine Arts in Roseville.

Heine drives back and forth to the Granite City to teach both bass and trombone as a member of the faculty of St. Cloud State University. He plays every Monday night with the Cedar Avenue Big Band at O'Gara's Bar & Grill, is a member of the hard-bop quintet Move and appears regularly as a sideman at the Artists' Quarter. He also teaches at Schmitt Music in Brooklyn Center.

Busy, busy, busy.

Yet nothing fires these musicians up quite like TRIPLICATE. It is their most personal avenue of musical expression, their calling card and their first love. They rehearse faithfully every week, whether there are a dozen gigs on the calendar that month or just one. They feel the rehearsals are their own reward.

"The idea is to utilize the trio format to its fullest," Shapira said.

"TRIPLICATE is an opportunity for us to get together, be creative and challenge ourselves," Heine said. "It's a real musical outlet, as opposed to backing singers or doing jobbing gigs."

"We pick tough tunes to play to challenge ourselves," Stanoch said. "The arrangements are constantly evolving, thanks to those regular rehearsals. In TRIPLICATE, we try to utilize each instrument equally. This isn't a guitar trio in the standard sense. It's not just a soloist and two accompanists. Everybody gets ample space and opportunity to shine."

That's apparent from even the casual listen to TRIPLICATE's self-titled debut CD, released earlier this year. It may be only April, but it's safe to say that the 11-track album is one of the finest local offerings -- in any genre -- of 2001. A mix of under-exposed jazz classics, crafty original tunes, Tin Pan Alley gems, confident bebop, post-bop jazz-rock and ethnic grooves from warmer climes (New Orleans, Brazil), Triplicate is all musical meat, no cereal filler. It offers everything from Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell to John "Mahavishnu" McLaughlin and Led Zeppelin.

An "in the tradition" jazz disc that recognizes funk and fusion as part of the tradition, Triplicate is also an album that is frequently surprising, occasionally backward-looking, but never stuffy, academic or retro. Give one listen to Charles Mingus' catchy "Nostalgia In Times Square," reconceived as a funky sidewalk strut, and you'll be hooked.

If the trio's album sounds like it was painstakingly made, that's no accident. "We took a year to make it," Stanoch said. "The actual performance time was just eight days in the studio, but to finance and coordinate it, the project worked out being a one-day-a-month affair, in eight different months, averaging about three hours each day in the studio."

"To complete the record in a year was always our intention," Shapira said. "We all teach and we have little common time that's free. Basically, it's Wednesday afternoons, when we rehearse. Plus we had to work around (studio engineer) Matt Zimmerman's schedule. One of the best things on the record is a first take of 'Webb City' that we did at 10 in the morning on a cold winter day. It was the first tune of the session and the first take of the day and it came out perfect."

Another standout track on the album is "Lament" by the great and recently late bebop trombonist J.J. Johnson. Outside of TRIPLICATE, Heine is known for his able work on slide trombone, but he didn't pick the song as a Johnson homage. He wasn't even aware of its genesis.

"I knew 'Lament' from pianist Laura Caviani's arrangement of the tune, which we play in the Cedar Avenue Big Band," he said. "I just thought it'd be a good melodic vehicle for the bass."

Jazz fans can purchase Triplicate or listen for the album in rotation on KBEM-88.5 FM to find out just how fine a vehicle "Lament" is for Heine's eloquent bass.

TRIPLICATE's CD release party at the Dakota Bar & Grill was a standing-room-only hit in January. The trio's next appearances locally are at 9:00 p.m. Thursday, April 5, at the Artists' Quarter in St. Paul and at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 10 at Jitter's in the lower level of the Times Bar & Cafe in Minneapolis.

Unless, of course, you count TRIPLICATE's weekly rehearsal sessions at Heine's house in Longfellow. That's a date that pays zero, yet one that none of these talented musicians would ever want to miss.

March 28, 2010