Third Impulse
Edgetone Records EDT 4004

With economic as much as musical considerations governing 21st century jazz combos’ configuration, trios of all sorts have become the new norm. But this means that the singular component of a front line can as easily be limited to a brass player, rather than the traditional reed or chordal instrumentalist. Trouble is, the harmonics needed may also be MIA, despite the band members’ best efforts.

New York trumpeters Dave Douglas and Cuong Vu have tried this formation with varying success, and now three young Bay area improvisers are doing the same. With experience encompassing jazz, blues, improv, classical, New music and dance company gigs the members of Third Impulse certainly have the background give the concept the old college try. While props have to be given for chutzpah and novelty, the end product is only middling, because of a similarity in sound throughout and a tendency to let tracks go on at too great a length.

Certainly there’s not too much that can be faulted from the three. Ontario-born trumpeter Darren Johnston has strong chops, even if all his publicity photos show him with no face from the nose up — better to concentrate on his embouchure, it seems. Seattle-native Loren Kiyoshi Dempster, equally adapt at arco and pizzicato cello has toured with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company performing contemporary music, while local drummer Niels Myrner, who has been playing for 15 years, knows what to do with percussion, though he often tends to become bombastic on the kit.

For instance, the shakes and rattles he introduces to “Rhythm of the Birds” work much better mixed with unstated muted horn lines and the cello’s natural melancholy tone than anything done with bass drum and snares. The title itself seems less than descriptive, relating not at all to the explorations of such aviary fanciers as Oliver Messiaen, Eric Dolphy or even Roger McGuinn.

The same weakness is evident in the band’s version of Erik Satie’s “Gnosienne #1”. Quite lovely, with is bowed cello introduction, throwing a bit of Klezmer-style trumpet and detective show rhythm on top of the original melody, it’s merely decorated not redefined. Other times it would seems that Johnston has adopted a POMO version of countryman Maynard Ferguson’s mannerisms, introducing high passages for no reason, or trying to extend a Jungle Sound with horse whinnies.

Elsewhere on a couple of the rock-influenced tunes, Dempster proves he can pick a foot-tapping, bass guitar-like rhythm with the best of them, or meet Myrner’s clangorous attack head on with a radical metallic screech that seems designed for maximum ear damage.

More memorable is the band’s deconstruction of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”. Here the cello provides a Scottish chanter style-underlying drone, as the breathy trumpet elaborates the melody, then plays call-and-response with the others via tune variations.

Ambitious, but overlong at nearly 10 minutes, “Tomorrow At Sea …” at least suggests that the three are trying to work a way out of their triangular conundrum. Johnston runs the gamut from sour trumpet tones and what could almost be brass exercises to melodious sections that could have fit onto one of those 1950s trumpet’n’strings LPs. Bowing away, Dempster resonates more than one string and several tones simultaneously before sounding sharp clicks from beneath the bridge. Thankfully Myrner restrains himself.

Despite economics, if a band like Third Impulse is to flourish, it must focus and shorten its tunes and precis the best part of the arrangements. Perhaps another member is needed or the creation of a shorter CD. All three players should have many years of music making in front of them and may in the future look back at this CD as a loss of recording virginity that wasn’t all that satisfying.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Dangerous 2. Sheba’s Hesitation 3. Swing Low Sweet Chariot 4. Third Impulse 5. Rhythm of Birds 6. Gnosienne #1 7. Burst 8. Tomorrow At Sea … 9. All Rivers At Once 10. Last Call

Personnel: Darren Johnston (trumpet); Loren Kiyoshi Dempster (cello); Niels Myrner (drums)