The Inventions Trio, who will release their third CD Saturday at a concert at St. Mary's Episcopal School's Buckman Performing Arts Center, like to say their music exists at the intersection of jazz and classical.
Physically, that corner must lie somewhere in the living room of the Midtown home of group member Alisa Horn's parents, where the genre-blurring group first started a decade ago. Horn, a trained classical cellist, is the only professional musician in a family of musicians that includes her violinist/pianist mother, Jan, and her father, Dr. Howard Horn, a "recovering trombonist." Among Dr. Horn's oldest friends is the celebrated Memphis-born jazz trumpeter Marvin Stamm, whom he first met at an All-State music competition in high school in the 1950s.
"Marvin's always been in my life sort of as a surrogate dad/mentor," Alisa Horn says of Stamm, whose credits over a 50-plus-year career include gigs with Stan Kenton, Benny Goodman and Frank Sinatra. "In my family, everyone plays instruments but no one's a professional, so Marvin was always my role model in being a professional musician."
In 2003, Stamm was back in Memphis with his frequent collaborator, pianist/composer/arranger Bill Mays (Gerry Mulligan, Sarah Vaughan, Frank Zappa) for an event at the University of Memphis. One morning the pair had brunch at the Horn home, a gathering that inevitably turned musical.
"Bill and I just started jamming together," recalls Horn, who was finishing up her undergraduate degree in performance at the University of Michigan at the time. "I was playing some classical stuff with him, Rachmaninoff's sonata 'Vocalise,' and he said, 'Why don't you try to improvise on that?' I was having so much fun, Marvin said he saw this big smile on my face and realized that we really need to do something together as a trio."
Out of that jam session grew The Inventions Trio, an unlikely teaming of two seasoned jazz veterans with the classically trained coed who had never played jazz before.
"Alisa is one of the most passionate performers. Her feeling for music is just amazing," says Stamm of his young collaborator, whose training in the Suzuki method he credits with her ability to quickly adapt to a more improvisational setting. "She has a tremendous amount of maturity. The difference in ages isn't that prominent to anyone else. She brings a wealth of classical acumen to the whole thing."
The trio got their start with an original composition commissioned by Dr. Horn and his friend, Dr. Frank Osborn, a 22-minute suite by Mays titled "The Fantasy for Cello, Trumpet, and Piano." The work was featured on the group's 2007 debut CD, Fantasy. Another track included a combination of Johann Sebastian Bach's "Invention #8" and Charlie Parker's "Ah-Leu-Cha," an innovative mashup that cuts to the heart of the group's unique fusion of jazz and classical chamber music.
"This approach is something that's quite unique to this group," says Stamm, pointing to a repertoire that finds room for Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk alongside Claude Debussy and Alexander Borodin. "It's a round approach in that we've taken a number of classical themes and Bill has arranged them for the trio, and we've opened up sections for improvisation."
The Inventions Trio may be best known, however, for the three Horn-Osborn commissioned original suites Mays has composed, the latest of which is "Life's A Movie (Four Cues In Search of a Film)." The suite is the centerpiece of the group's record, Life's A Movie, which will be available at the show and will be released later this year by the re-established Chiaroscuro Records label.
"It's an eclectic collection of music that we feel really melds together well," Stamm says of the record, which also includes medleys of works by Bill Evans and Monk as well as a new union that brings together Chick Corea's "Spain" with Joaquin Rodrigo's "Concerto de Aranjuez."
Today The Inventions Trio is scattered across the Northeast, where Stamm and Mays direct their busy concert careers from upstate New York and Pennsylvania, respectively, while Horn resides in Manhattan, where she is working freelance, playing largely on Broadway. But the sudden death last year of their patron Osborn has brought them back to the city where they started.
"This concert is in honor of him," Horn says of Osborn, to whom the new CD is also dedicated. "He was such a supporter of us."