Tom Rainey Trio

Hotel Grief
Intakt Records CD 256

By Ken Waxman

Comfortable in settings from big band to solo, guitarist Mary Halvorson joins with soprano and tenor saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock to roughen the edges of the five instant compositions on this CD. Cultivated and self-effacing, leader/drummer Tom Rainey is as far removed from a braggadocious percussion show off like Buddy Rich as Donald Trump is from Martin Luther King. Discretion doesn’t mean withdrawal however, and in context the drummer’s sophisticatedly positioned strokes contribute more to the architectures of the tracks than would any clamorous rhythm display.

With the guitarist’s strategies ranging from distorted reverb to sly, slurred fingering, and the reed tessitura soaring from clenched squeaks to harsh rasping whispers, the drummer’s role is analogous to a UN peacekeeper in the Balkans: maintaining consistency without favoring either side and keeping their extended techniques from occupying the other’s territory.

“Proud Achievements in Botany”, the CD’s almost-19 minute centrepiece, is a microcosm of how Hotel Grief’s tracks evolve. Halvorson’s widening or winnowing licks take on spacey qualities at the same time as Laubrock’s intense single reed bites settle into linear melodies. With the saxophonist’s now modulated tones circumscribed by string chording, drum rattles manipulate any stray lines so that the three eventually move as if regimental guards in formation. Breaking the concordance with what could be a slo-mo version of “Wipe Out”, Rainey tough drum beats join with Halvorson’s lopping reverb and Laubrock’s slurps and snarls to create a finale that may rattle like an old jalopy, but still conveys the grace and speed of well-plotted locomotion.

Although titled Hotel Grief, this musical dwelling offers very little despondency except for fleeting moods in context. Instead by imagining each track as a separate room, the CD offers a set of quietly resplendent chambers furnished with innovative touches by a trio of sonic designers.

Concert note: Mary Halvorson is a member of The Outlouds trio in concert on Saturday, June 18 at Array Space

-For The Whole Note June 2016