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Mark Boling Trio

When the words "Knoxville, Tennessee" come to mind most people think of many things other than world class jazz. It's true, Knoxville is no New York, no Montreal, no Paris, no New Orleans. But if you go there and you happen to stumble blindly into Lucille's or Baker-Peter's on the right night, you're likely to be astounded. This is because underneath the shadow of the behemoth known as the University of Tennessee football team, Knoxville and its university have a little secret: a jazz program that ranks among the country's best and a flourishing local jazz scene.

When you stumble into Lucille's on a Saturday night, you'll find yourself in a dark, smoky club that could easily be in the East Village. And past all the half-drunk singles at the bar and the little tables crowded too close together, you'll find a trio of musicians playing an eclectic array of jazz standards and original compositions with a fervor and musicianship that would be extraordinary anywhere.

As you might guess, these are faculty members from the aforementioned jazz program. The leader, a quiet unassuming guy with a guitar, spills out the opening melody to a Thelonious Monk song over the driving rhythms of a standup bass and a drum kit. For more than 15 years, the members of the Mark Boling Trio have been teaching kids the craft of jazz by day and playing these smoky clubs by night. Boling, who has played with jazz legends like Charlie Byrd, Louie Bellson, Peter Erskine, and Bill Watrous, has a reverent style in the tradition of jazz guitar pioneers like Charlie Christian, Wes Montgomery, and Jim Hall. Backed by bassist Rusty Holloway (who has performed with artists like Woody Herman and Chuck Mangione), and drummer Keith Brown (whose résumé includes stints with Tommy Flannagan, Frank Foster, and Marvin Stamm), Boling delivers an unassuming, assured performance on the trio's first recorded album, Evidence.

The record contains a large helping of standards, including Wes Montgomery's signature song "The Thumb," the Thelonius Monk tunes "Evidence" and "'Round Midnight," and Jerome Kern's "All the Things You Are," as well as a few originals. The featured tracks, "The Gift of Faith" (reminiscent of Montgomery's compositional style) and "Therapetic," are both Boling originals.

There may not be a lot of reasons to visit Knoxville. But if you do visit, you'll be committing a small crime if you miss out on one of the town's finest musical offerings.

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