The Thaw is a British trio, with Johnny Tomlinson on piano, Kristoffer Wright on drums, and Paul Baxter on double bass. As with many piano trios today, this is a democracy, with terrific interplay among the players, and a keen sense of how to support each other with color, counter melodies, and improvisation. Wright is a great colorist at times, and at other drives the band hard with some propulsive playing from his kit. Tomlinson on piano has the burden of carrying the melodies, and does so with long and lyrical melody lines, short stacato bursts, rapidly played improvisations, and a full range of dynamics. Baxter from the bass chair wrote all of the pieces on their latest recording, and demonstrates his abilities both in setting the tempos as well as in his melodic interludes, both plucked and bowed.
Their second album is "Eyes Shut Tight" (self produced by paulbaxtermusic.com 2011). It follows up on their first, “Evolution” (Hungry Bear Records 2010), of which I have only heard snatches but seems from those small pieces to be something to listen to in greater depth, and I am in the process of ordering it from JazzCDs.co.uk.
Baxter writes with a strong rhythmic sensibility, and the band draws comparisons to other European trios like E.S.T, Phronesis, and the Neil Cowley Trio. The Thaw's range of play is expansive, with bowed bass passages and pizzicato passages, and a great deal of textural changes from legato to staccato, pianissimo to forte, etc. which maintain great interest in their work from song to song. And don't miss the hiden track following "Hymn" featuring a bowed melody by Baxter and some supporting violins that stands up well as a classical piece of music.
The give and take of the three instruments and their varied attack create a very energetic and pleasing listen. The opening song "Mr. C " starts with some heavily played chords and a strong attack by all three players before it moves into some nicely played melodic piano sections; it is a song that immediately tells you that this is a band that is full of rapid changes, and a capacity to surprise. Insistent rhythms and a pulse from the drums and bass, and urgent chordal configurations, always seem push the music along on this opener. Towards the end, as the piano comes down quietly, the bass picks up the melody and carries the piece to a lovely conclusion.
The bass playing throughout is wonderful; listen to the opening of “Forethought” as it sets a quiet and emotional mood that is then picked up by the others on this quieter, more emotive song. There are many great interactions between the instruments that demonstrate how well they listen to each other and react to the tempos and moods being set. “A Touch Of The Charlies” is a ballad that opens with Baxter and his large, woody bass tone in concert with the colorings of a quiet piano and drum set. “Exit Train” is an upbeat groove tune with a propulsive beat set at the outset by the left hand of the pianist and the drummer, before the grooving melody comes into play. the beat then slows into a second section of great interest and dynamic and melody changes, which gradually picks up in intensity before ending abruptly with some laughter in the background. "Afterthought" is next, and is a nice piece of quiet but intense trio play with a lilting melody on piano supported by the others, and then "Hymn", with a switch midway for Tomlinson onto the organ, and the hidden piece end the disc in a stately manner.
"Eyes Tight Shut" is a wonderful CD which should please those who appreciate the style of play of the groups noted above. There is a great deal of impressionistic play, rapid changes in tempo, and drama inherent in the music, coupled with some lovely lyrical piano and bass play that create some beautiful passages. This is not your down the middle piano trio, but it also is not too far out either, and thus it is never hard to listen to. Baxter writes some nice songs and has a great harmonic sensibility, and his trio plays with verve and passion. Highly recommended.
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