May 17, 2015
Zeno de Rossi Trio
El Gallo Rojo 314-59
Jozef Dumoulin & The Red Hill Orchestra
Assimilating the sounds of an electric keyboard within improvised music is one challenge which many pianists have tried to meet over the past three or four decades. Perfect for coloration or to set up Funk or Fusion grooves, the amplified piano can also be used more cerebrally, bringing novel impulses to unexpected contexts. Each of these almost identically constituted trios goes this route; yet sonic instigation is dealt with in a singular fashion.
As familiar with so-called avant-Rock and Klezmer music as various streams of Jazz, drummer Zeno De Rossi has played with musicians as different as guitarist Marc Ribot and trumpeter Enrico Rava. Although the sounds on Kepos come from various sources, the Italian drummer and his associates – tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Francesco Bigoni plus Giorgio Pacorig on Fender Rhodes – work consistently throughout. Material ranges from originals to group instant compositions to treatment of songs by Robin Holcomb and Vic Chesnutt. But the patina of sameness that hangs over all of them may be great for band consistency, but takes time to warm the blood.
Belgian keyboardist Jozef Dumoulin is as versatile as De Rossi, having worked with everyone from Paris-based saxophonist Alexandra Grimal to fellow countryman, drummer Teun Verbruggen. Formed to explore Dumoulin’s compositions, despite its name, The Red Hill Orchestra is a trio which matches the keyboardist with two well-travelled Americans, drummer Dan Weiss and tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin. Tone amalgamation from the three while elaborating the CD’s dozen tunes appears more total than what transpires among the Italian three.
De Rossi’s crew ping-pongs among Rock, improv, psychedelic, folk, Jazz and outer space influences on its CD, with the twists and turns sometime difficult to reconcile. The version of Vic Chesnutt’s “Forthright” for instance, comes across as a Country-Rock instrumental devoid of Jazz feeling. In contrast, with its keyboard dusting, pinched reed slurs and irregular percussion inserts, “Funis Ambulans” sounds like an off-centre lullaby. Additionally, the 30-second “Don't Sit under the Apple Tree with My Banjo on Your Knee”, whose title may be longer than the performance itself, is properly other-worldly, but is more of a throw-away than an intermezzo. “I Met Einstein in a Dream”, is similarly spacey as well as psychedelic, but the relaxed drumming from De Rossi and Bigoni’s flexible reed lines make a more lasting impression than the theme itself.
Much more engaging are those tunes where the trio expresses its Jazz and/or Jazz-Rock influences in full. For instance “This is Always” casts Bigoni’s tenor saxophone lines midway between Ben Webster and Stan Getz and proves that the trio can swing even with a theme taken slower than slow. Keyboard textural buzzing plus a shuffle beat give a unique tint to “Deep Dead Blue”, which could be a left-of-centre variant of Gene Ammons playing “Angel Eyes” – if you can imagine an Italian clarinetist not a Chicago saxophonist in that role. On the Rockier side, “Shades of Bill Frisell” doesn’t much sound like its dedicatee, unless fuzz-tone-like keyboard licks, riffing sax lines and an unvarying beat are how De Rossi hears that guitarist’s music. More fascinating is “Pitula”, which cleverly defines how opposite attractions can meld, with an exposition divided among gooey keyboard licks, breathy, laid back saxophone riffs and anvil-hard drum smacks.
With the De Rossi trio’s disc teetering between magnificent and mundane due to its eclecticism, The Red Hill Orchestra scores more decisively, but that’s because its performances are more consistent, if perhaps too steadfast. With most tunes hovering in an atmospheric, zone, it appears that Dumoulin’s textural strategy is moistly languid; Weiss’s to not upset the placidity except for the occasional rim shot; and Eskelin is left to vibrate tones in a distinctive style that refers to both Ammons and Getz. Chromatic motion isn’t at a premium throughout, and to move the sounds out of a consistent groove takes some effort. There are some differences though. “Said a Blade of Grass” has the saxophonist’s extended vibrations enlivening variations on a shifting near-baroque étude from the electric pianist. And while “Inner White” features no ProgRock echoes, the saxophonist’s straight-ahead note spinning still attempts to harden the keyboardist’s laid back comping.
It appears that only the lengthier numbers escape tone suspension. “Up and Down” is literally that, with strong blowing from Eskelin and a connective beat from Weiss squeezing the band towards an almost swinging groove. Dot-dash oscillations from Dumoulin that can’t decide whether to emulate Techno or electric-era Herbie Hancock enliven “Lord Blue Throat”. However the saxophonist appears to be holding himself back until a broad Weiss backbeat emboldens him to be more responsive. Instructively, “The Gate”, possibly the freest tune on the disc, is also the most exciting. That’s because as Weiss passionately whacks his cymbals and Eskelin’s tone hardens to Sonny Stitt-like toughness, with the resulting tempo acceleration bringing Dumoulin’s swells and pushes on board to reach a staccato climax,
Judging from the identically titled “Sea Green” tracks which introduce and conclude Trust, Dumoulin probably conceived of the session as a suite-like program with gentle lapping asides throughout. That goal may have been reached, but some of the eclecticism expressed by De Rossi could have been better for this session, just as a more focused program would have strengthened Kepos. Both CDs suggest avenues for electric piano invention, but both are a bit flawed.
Track Listing: Kepos: 1. Khaim 2. Sournoise 3. Lapsus Memoriae 4. Deep Dead Blue 5. Dark Moods 6. Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree with My Banjo on Your Knee 7. I Met Einstein in a Dream 8. Shades of Bill Frisell 9. Funis Ambulans 10. Pitula 11. Cheyenne 12. Forthright 13. This is Always
Personnel: Kepos: Francesco Bigoni (tenor saxophone and clarinet); Giorgio Pacorig (Fender Rhodes) and Zeno De Rossi (drums)
Track Listing: Trust: 1. Sea Green 2. Water Bears 3. M 4. Sleeping Warriors 5. Inner White 6. Lord Blue Throat 7.All the Dragons in our Lives 8. Up and Down 9. Now that I have a Human Body 10. The Gate 11. Said a Blade of Grass 12. Sea Green
Personnel: Trust: Ellery Eskelin (tenor saxophone and clarinet); Jozef Dumoulin (Fender Rhodes and keyboards) and Dan Weiss (drums)