Greg Skaff doesn’t often get to drive the bus. Best known for his work in organ trios, he’s frequently confined to accompaniment duty, which means that his brisk, pleasingly angular, Jim Hall-like tone isn’t as immediately recognizable as it ought to be.
This is a session that very nearly didn’t happen, but was squeezed in just as New York was going into lockdown. “Tootie” Heath was supposed to be playing at a Lincoln Center tribute to his late brother Jimmy, but it was canceled. He decided to make the Skaff date, nonetheless, reuniting him with Carter after many years.
The drummer was late for the date, which is why there are two versions of “Little Waltz,” one of the bassist’s best known compositions. The date also includes Duke Ellington’s “Lady Of The Lavender Mist,” done here with exquisite refinement.
But that isn’t the band’s only gear. They race through Larry Young’s “Paris Eyes,” a single nod to the organ trio repertory, and the opening “Old Devil Moon” is swung with considerable vigor. Skaff’s originals “Mr. R.C.” and “Polaris” are bright, uncluttered and very direct in statement. The title track also references the group, since the North Star is a triple system that comes to us as a single light source; it’s a nice metaphor for the tightness of the trio.
Inevitably, one spends a lot of time listening to Carter’s countermelodies and Heath’s highly musical drumming. But Skaff makes his presence count and, on the closing “Ill Wind,” shows he’s a soloist of some substance.