Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Four More Trios: Outside Looking In

Of the group of piano trios I picked out a couple of weeks ago, these are the furthest outside of the mainstream, but not so far as to be called avant guard or free jazz, etc. Each is characterized by strong melodic lines, with a combination of written and improvised play. Finally, the idea was to pick out trios that wer just that, trios of piano, bass (or stringed instrument) and drums (or percussion) with no guest appearances by wind or brass instruments. Purely trios. One of the three herein breaks the mold a bit, but the other three do not. Anyway....

Product DetailsThe first is Hiromi's latest, "Move" (Telarc 2012) with Anthony Jackson on contrabass guitar and Simon Phillips on drums. Perhaps not so out there after all, Hiromi is well-established by now with a host of earlier CDs as a bombastic, enthusiastic, agile, and original pianist. Here her goal was to present a suite of songs that describe her day, from wakening through going to sleep, and much of the original compositions are nicely written with some lovely melodies and interplay with the band. Unfortunately, once again Hiromi emphasizes dexterity, creativity and speed but not so much when it comes to dynamics, contrasts, and expression. I do not wake up this quickly, and surely am more tired out at the end of the day, so the arc of the day here is limited. This is very much a "look at me" production. I have to say I do like the music and there is a time and place to listen to Hiromi, particularly when I am looking for something lively and spirited, but her CDs can get to be tiring to listen to in one sitting given the limited range of expression. She is dazzling no doubt, and when she does go mellow, as she does for parts of "Endeavor", and quite a lot for "Brand New Day" it can be charming to hear. If you like Hiromi, and I do, then you will like this CD, but maybe like me in small servings.

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"Space is the Place" (Storyville 2012) is a trio recording by Carsten Dahl on piano, Arild Andersen on bass, and Jon Christiansen on drums, all familiar names from the Northern Europe chamber jazz scene as well as from ECM recordings. This is very much in that same mode, very peaceful music that never goes over the top, and very textured with the addition of bells, chimes, inside piano play, and other percussive effects. It is an album you will feel as much as hear. It is more sound-based than melodically driven, and the space referred  to is clearly not outer-space but the space between notes, and the inner space of one's perceptions. All of the compositons are from Dahl, and his notes refer to his goal to provide a lot of freedom to explore sounds and melodies, and he achieves this with a wonderfully recorded session.

Product DetailsThird on this post is a group I never thought I would sit down, listen to, and enjoy --- Medeski, Martin and Wood, but I have to say that I love their latest, the all-acoustic "Free Magic" (Indirecto 2012). In fact, since listening to it I have dipped back into their discography and have purchased their only other two acoustic CDs, "Live at Tonic" (Blue Note 2000)  and their first, "Notes from the Underground" (Accurate Jazz 1992). Yes, there are still some very frantic parts to each of the recordings, but when they settle in their trio plays pretty conventionally, with the emphasis on melodic interplay and clean lines and imporvisations. There are five tracks in all, with the last one being the only cover, a mash-up of "Nostalgia in Times Square" by Mingus and "Angel Race" by Sun Ra, and despite the known proclivities of the two composers to go to the edges this track is really great stuff and great interpretations of the songs within the trio context. "Blues for Another Day", the second track, starts out with a wild four minute whirlwind of sound, kind of an "uh-oh", but then settles into a relaxed piano blues that slowly goes from a piano solo into a more driven trio blues, with some strong use of the high hat to drive it along. It is a wow piece attributed to Medeski. Track 4, "Where's Sly", is another Medeski piece that starts with the piano in the bass clef playing another blues in a middle tempo, and then picks up into a near frenzy until it settles back again after about 7 minutes. There are all sorts of sounds and textures, major dynamic shifts, and some outstanding play from the percussion by Martin that highlight this track. I strongly recommend this CD, and encourage others like me to give MM&W a chance.

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Finally, another musician who I have taken to, at least in certain settings, is John Zorn.  I have posted about him before, "Stretching Out: Discovering John Zorn" (March 13), and this time around I draw your attention to "A Vision in Blakelight" (Tzadik 2012) which is a bit more than a trio recording but still confined to percussion instruments:  John Medeski on piano and organ, Kenny Wollesen on vibes and bells, Carol Emanuel on harp, Trevor Dunn on bass, Joey Baron on drums, and Cyro Baptista on percussion. (One track has a narrator reading from Blake's Jersusalem but I myself skip through it) All of the music was writtenand arranged by Zorn. Some of the works are based on strong melodies and others are more like watercolors with lots of interesting effects from a wide range of sounds. ther are several pieces where I thought of the music of Ronin or The Necks, but with a bit more movement provided; others were more strongly rooted in melody lines and a trio setting. Watercolors in sound, the music engenders feelings of mystery and of the mystical as it weaves through the ten pieces. The packaging is terrific as well, with some outstanding paintings of angels that convey the same sense of mystery.  Zorn's musical compositions are unlike those of any others I can think of and a listen to this CD will be a rewarding experience for those willing to try.

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