Jesse Stacken

Bagatelles for Trio
Fresh Sound New Talent FSNT 398

The Mighty Mouse

Live at Glenn Miller Café

Barefoot Records BFRC 016CD

Perhaps the reason for the so-called classic piano trio’s longstanding popularity in Jazz is the number of musical permutations that the three instruments can create together. Think of nearly any track recorded by Bill Evans’ trio with Paul Motian in the early 1960s alongside a Red Garland set with Paul Chambers and Art Taylor at the same time, for instance, and completely different boundaries are starkly revealed.

Not that 21st century players who eschew the avant-garde have to rigidly follow either procedure, but certainly the discs here stack up on either side of formalist verses free form. , Created by two long-standing trios, instructively, and in a reversal of common geographic clichés, the Swedish-Norwegian Mighty Mouse combo set is more outgoing and swinging, whereas the New York-based three on the other disc are involved with illustrating an intellectual concept.

Not that strict Gnostic-like experimentation is the only forum for the American-based musicians however. Pianist/leader Jesse Stacken for instance, is part of a long-time duo with trumpeter/cornetist Kirk Knuffke interpreting traditional Jazz lines, and has works with everyone from saxophonist Michael Blake to kotoist Akiko Sasaki. Drummer Jeff Davis is part of different bands, including those featuring, Knuffke or bassist Michael Bates, while. Norwegian-born bassist Eivind Opsvik plays with saxophonist Tony Malaby as well as other New York-based players such as pianist Craig Taborn. Mighty Mouse’s drummer Håkon Berre is also Norwegian, but lives in Copenhagen where he works with players such as bassist Peter Friis-Nielsen. Copenhagen-born pianist Morten Pedersen is part of many Jazz combs in the Danish capital, whereas bassist Adam Pultz Melbye, another Dane, has played with saxophonist like the German Peter Brötzmann.

Recorded at Stockholm’s famous and often noisy Glen Miller Café, Mighty Mouse’s seven originals are built up from thumping bass notes, drums ruffs and stop-time piano chording that often makes the shorter tunes flash past freneticly. More generic are the lengthier performances, which are done with such powerful aplomb that even the audience members who usually talk throughout the bass introductions are quiet by the finale(s). Often times, as on the concluding “Sneaky”, the strategy involves fore-and-aft tremolos building up powerfully, with all three figuratively firing on all cylinders as they play. Moving between percussiveness, lyricism and convention on “Nature morte à la palette” – one interpolated phrase sounds suspiciously like “Hernando’s Hideaway” – Pedersen’s double-gaited cadenzas and jumping patterns perambulate, moving the narrative at a moderate pace. Adding to this is the drummer’s claps and clatters plus Melbye slicing textures up and down his strings; and the end result is a jolly dance-like refrain.

Still the CD showpiece is the 26½-minute “Incommunicado/Proxylakkt” with kinetic note cascades and two-handed rumbles from Pedersen that swiftly turn into line elaboration. Contrapuntal coordination is apparent from the sluicing bass line and the drummer’s rat-tat-tats as the pianist’s glissandi fragment into different variations including an unidentified Bebop-styled melody. Balancing the delicate dusting of keyboard notes with powerful double bass string strokes and side and bottom percussion clinks, the tempo speeds up and slows down repeatedly as the theme is passed from one to another, finally spiking to a climax made up of Berre shaking chains and bells plus the pianist stroking internal string. A descending series of final variations finds Pederson crowbarring processional chords into his solo – incidentally silencing the noisy crowd – then with walking bass and drum paradiddles behind him showing off wide handed, febrile runs that could have come from Oscar Peterson or Errol Garner. Completed the tune becomes an intermezzo of unison key clips, bass-string plucks plus pronounced rim shots from the drummer.

Reflecting the stained glass window motif on the CD booklet cover, Stacken’s Bagatelles for Trio is as much a studio-oriented experiment in cerebral instant composition as Live is, well, Live. Highlighting 13 “bagatelles” ranging from ones barely two minutes in length to slightly less than seven minutes, the intellectual exercise fully distinguishes different keyboard experiments from one another, while fully involving the other two members of the trio. Both propositions are a bit iffy, and, possibly because of juxtaposition, there’s an excess of sameness in execution of the pianist’s compositions. Explanations in the notes move the baker’s dozen of fantasias away from Keith Jarrett-like pretentiousness, but it may take a piano student to fully appreciate the skill in consecrating “Bagatelle No. 1” for instance, to a slow-moving demonstration of ringing piano lines, and the final “Bagatelle” to speedy, thumping angular octave piano lines.

More satisfying are tracks such as “Bagatelle No. 12”, which ostensibly uses slightly wrong chords to illustrate the thematic material, but is more notable for Davis’ bass drum and snare slapping and Stacken hardening a simplistic melody through strumming fortissimo and high-frequency arpeggios. Another notable instance occurs on “Bagatelle No. 2”, when thumping bass and pressurized drum beats back the pianist’s illuminating a swing sequence in one hand by dramatically contrasting it with sprawling cross pulses from the other hand. Additionally Stacken may be aiming for the rondo form on “Bagatelle No.4”, but the parallel lines and metronomic pacing only become animated when near Boogie-Woogie intensity plus emphasized glissandi are brought forward.

Elsewhere, giving Davis and Opsvik more room to express themselves with clicking and buzzing bass lines plus intermittent drum drags and distanced pumps and claps provides more of a trio feel to the performance. With the others’ parts in place, Stacken’s variations encompass stretched shimmering runs, extended soundboard reverberation and tremolo pumping is more thematically cohesive.

Confirming the piano-bass-drums line-up’s versatility, each of these CDs is notable in a different way. In its experimental formalism Bagatelles for Trio may call for more listener concentration and perhaps an enthrallment with the piano. Live at Glenn Miller Café is easier to appreciate, but also more of an expected night club Jazz session. The devil may be in the details, but so are preferences.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Bagatelles: 1. Bagatelle No. 1 2. Bagatelle No. 2 3. Bagatelle No. 3 4. Bagatelle No. 4 5. Bagatelle No. 5 6. Bagatelle No. 6 7. Bagatelle No. 7 8. Bagatelle No. 8 9. Bagatelle No. 9 10. Bagatelle No. 10 11. Bagatelle No. 11 12. Bagatelle No. 12 13. Bagatelle No. 13 (2:13)

Personnel: Bagatelles: Jesse Stacken (piano); Eivind Opsvik (bass) and Jeff Davis (drums)

Track Listing: Live: 1. Central Park Houdini 2. Incommunicado/Proxylakkt 3. Objekt 4. Lost at Sea and Never Found 5. Kassipoeg 6. Nature morte à la palette 7. Ublit 8. Sneaky

Personnel: Live: Morten Pedersen (piano); Adam Pultz Melbye (bass) and Håkon Berre (drums)