July 21, 2020
Andy Milne and Unison
Sunnyside Records SSC 1576
Jim Black Trio
Intakt CD 334
Uwe Oberg/Joe Fonda/Lucía Martínez
NotTwo MW 994-2
Live at artacts ’19 St. Johann
Creative Sources CS 622 CD
Favored in many styles of Jazz at least since the early 1950s, the conventional piano, bass and drums trio has been used by everyone from Teddy Wilson on one hand to Cecil Taylor on the other. The true test of interpretation for many though is how to assert individuality within the category’s parameters. Each trio here does so, but happily with singular solutions.
For Canadian pianist Andy Milne and Americans, drummer Jim Black, the idea is to go back to the future. Known for their contributions to larger, less conventional group of Steve Coleman (Milne) and Mark Dresser (Black) among many others, the two fit comfortably within the trio format. In Milne’s case it means allaying himself with American young veterans, bassist John Hébert and drummer Clarence Penn and introducing The Remission with an expressively swinging rendition of McCoy Tyner’s “Passion Dance” Penn’s cymbal splashes and Hébert’s steady thumps join with the pianist’s shaded and circular key formulas on the 10 mostly Milne compositions that make up the rest of the session. Although some relaxed balladic interpretations come forward, the trio makes the most of the striking cinematic worthy thrills on the faster numbers. For example on “Drive By - The Fall”, the pianist relaxes sideways into the theme as he trades menacing thrusts for dynamic elaboration and finally elastic kinetics, seconded by low-pitched double bass stopping. More concentrated in introduction and resolution is the penultimate “Geewa”, where glissandi and key decoration meet up with drum pops and subtle rhythmic references to the first track’s motion. Both Penn and Hébert are given showcases as well, with the drummer’s exotic rim shots facing chiming patterns from Milne, and the bassist’s building vamp accompanied by further rim shots and piano’s narrative momentum. But the set’s best sound definition comes on “Winter Palace” when you can witness the exposition being built up with cross-laced tremolo notes from Milne and toughened into a wall-string groove by the finale.
With Black a more upfront percussionist than Penn, the key to the 11 instant compositions that make up Reckon is to ensure that the American drummer’s power stomping doesn’t overwhelm the other two players. American bassist Thomas Morgan is an old hand at this, helping to balance combos headed by figures as diverse as Tomasz Stańko and Craig Taborn, Meanwhile Salzburg native pianist Elias Stemeseder, who works with Anna Webber and Devin Gray, opens up the interpretations as well as contributing keyboard splashes, sprinkles and jangles so that any raggedness is in the interest of freedom not fragmentation. This strategy is most obvious on tracks such as “Neural Holiday” and the final “This One and This Too”. Working in the piano’s upper pitches on the former, Stemeseder’s prepared piano clicks also highlights and elongate a melody which is also propelled by Morgan’s wide thumps and that climaxes as string emphasis also moves upwards. Oddly enough, the conventionality of “This One and This Too”, with cymbal buzzing as part of a groove that suggests a set-closing Blues, is then architecturally upended by surprising player-piano-like clicks and rolls from Stemeseder. Harpsichord-like key clips maintain sonic empathy even as Black and Morgan counter the theme with heavy cymbal bounces and string echoes. As further instances of the trio’s democracy, the bassist and pianist each offer singular archetypal solos, throughout. Morgan’s distinctively echoing hard thumps are featured on “Very Query”, mixed with keyboard dusting and cymbal rolls. On the penultimate “What You Are Made From”, Stemeseder’s dulcimer-like strumming is contrasted with Morgan’s stentorian string bumps, until a collection of rugged metal pops and rim clanks from Black bring out a swing definition. Able to function at moderate and/or languid paces as well, with snowflake-like touches spinning out from the keyboards, string scratches and drum top runs combing into placidity, so that the trio makes its greatest impression with those passages. Yet a core of unbreakable power is always underneath the surface.
As controlled in its dissonance as the other disks aim for a variation of close-connected swing, the five live tracks on Relight align creativity from three improvisers of three generations from three countries. German pianist Uwe Oberg has recorded with the likes of Frank-Paul Schubert and Michael Griener; Spanish percussionist Lucía Martínez has worked with Agustí Fernández and with her own quartet; while American bassist Joe Fonda has played with a voters’ list collection of innovators from Anthony Braxton to Gebhard Ullmann. With the pianist and drummer better known, it’s Martínez who is the revelation here, as she seems to have a treasure chest full of percussion instruments she can introduce to provide just the right rhythm. Starting off slowly on “Their Cheeks Glowed” as chiming piano strokes are backed by goblet drum-like echoes and temple bell-like pealing, the interplay is heightened to include string buzzes from the bassist and culminates in an ambulatory theme, with key clusters from Oberg ringing as the narrative speeds up. While bongo-like pops from Martínez are most obvious when accompanying those times the bassist further expands the sound field by puffing on a woof flute, unexpected frails come into play on “Relight Years”, the most dramatic showcase of bass versatility. As Fonda moves from wood-rending scratches and scurrying swipes into gentle fingertip string touches, the drummer uses dual-headed drum smacks and snare clip-clop to create original multifold rhythms. Oberg’s ability to construct a narrative into near-Bebop swing out of key jangles and asides is demonstrated on the lengthy “The Sharp Side of It”, as textural plinks meld with hi-hat strokes and Fonda’s pulses rappelling up and down the double bass strings. At this point the exposition toughens with galloping repeated cluster from Oberg, repetitive spiccato thrusts from the bassist, culminating in climatic slaps and rebounds from the drummer.
Another instance of tripartite experimentation in pure improvisation but with a cello in the place of the double bass is Live at artacts ’19 St. Johann. The cellist is Uli Winter and the drummer Fredi Pröll, both Austrian and both of whom have built up an unbeatable rapport playing together for many years, backing the likes of Tanya Feichtmair and Udo Schindler. The pianist is Athens-born Villy Paraskevopoulos, who has worked with Thomas Berghammer, Irene Kepl and others. The disc consists of a near recital-ready exercise in quiet expression of deliberate string strumming, cymbal emphasis and deconstructed keyboard variations. While the emotional momentum is present throughout, palpitating and breath-taking sounds characterize “There And Back”, the nearly 32½-minute opening salvo. Driven forward with squeaking sul tasto runs from the cellist and a popping broken beat from the drummer, the introduction quickly evolves with wriggling power pushes from the pianist that reveal new variations as they thicken into an exposition. Pushing and plinking inner piano strings soon afterwards slows the forward motion at mid point but with no loss of power. Eventually keyboard pseudo-impressionism gives way to modal Jazz scene-setting that establishes a narrative. Taken out with lug-loosening and tightening plus percussive plunks from Pröll and woody col legno sweeps from Winter, the piano-cello-drums sound fluctuations settle into a collaborative finale.
Representing Continental Europe and North America, and possessing cerebral conceptions and creative skills these trios show how the most expected configuration can be refreshed.
Track Listing: Remission: 1. Passion Dance 2. Resolution 3. Winter Palace 4. Vertical on Opening Night 5. Drive By - The Fall 6. Anything about Anything 7. Dancing on the Savannah 8. The Call 9. Geewa 10. Sad To Say
Personnel: Remission: Andy Milne (piano); John Hébert (bass) and Clarence Penn (drums)
Track Listing: Reckon: 1. Astrono Said So 2. Tripped Overhue 3. Tighter Whined 4. Spooty and Snofer 5. Very Query 6. Focus on Tomorrow 7. Next Razor World 8. Neural Holiday 9. Dancy Clear Ends 10. What You Are Made From 11. This One and This Too
Personnel: Reckon: Elias Stemeseder (piano); Thomas Morgan (bass) and Jim Black (drums)
Track Listing: Relight: 1. Their Cheeks Glowed 2. Lighter Than Before 3. Almost Two 4. The Sharp Side of It 5. Relight Years 6. Triple Relish
Personnel: Relight: Uwe Oberg (piano); Joe Fonda (bass) and Lucía Martínez (drums)
Track Listing: Live: 1. There And Back 2. Dig a Hole
Personnel: Live: Villy Paraskevopoulos (piano); Uli Winter (cello) and Fredi Pröll (drums)