Barber Mouse

March 15, 2023

Heretic Monk
Auand AU 3023

The Hasaan, Hope & Monk Project
Driff CD2201

Dan Weiss Trio
Cygnus Recordings CR 102

Cristiano Calcagnile Anokhi
We Insist! CD WEIN 21

Expressing unique takes on the classic jazz piano trio format, four bands – two Italian and two American – independently refresh the idiom focusing on original material or creating homages. On Dedication, New York drummer Dan Weiss, and his long-established group of pianist Jacob Sacks and bassist Thomas Morgan. turn their attention to interpreting nine Weiss compositions, honoring important figures in the drummer’s life. All are young veterans of the city’s musical gestalt, playing with the likes of Craig Taborn, Miles Okazaki and Ellery Eskelin. Another drummer, but Italian, Cristiano Calcagnile dedicates Inversi to all originals played by the Anokhi trio, filled out by pianist Giorgio Pacorig and bassist Gabriele Evangelista. Veterans Calcagnile and Pacorig has worked with everyone from Tobias Delius to Rob and local musicians, while the younger Evangelista has worked with Stefano Bollani. Meanwhile, unknown to one another and recorded years apart and on different continents, the Italian Barber Mouse trio and American Karayorgis/McBride/Gray group have put out discs honoring influential pianists. As is obvious from Heretic Monk, the CD’s title, pianist Fabrizio Rat, bassist Stefano Risso and drummer Mattia Barbieri play tunes composed by Thelonious Monk or interpreted by him. Rat is also involved with techno music; Barbieri, collaborated with Richard Galliano; while Risso plays in group with, among others, Marco Zanoli. Taking the pianist-honoring concept several steps further, Boston-based pianist Pandelis Karayorgis bassist Nate McBride and drummer Luther Gray, who individually have played with innovators such as Ken Vandermark and Damon Smith, interpret six Monk lines plus three Elmo Hope compositions and four by Hasaan Ibn Ali.

It’s a tribute to Monk’s compositional fecundity that his tunes selected by the Italian and US bands are completely different. Furthermore Rat’s key-stopping, strums, implement juddering on inner strings and rough resonations usually calibrate the heretic part of Barber Mouse’s Monk interpretations. At that point it’s bassist Risso who outlines the themes. Other times, as on “Epistrophy”, the pianist splays unexpected acoustic diversions into the introduction, marking time until the familiar Monk melody appears. Even then to avoid the expected, double bass strums, key stopping and drum vibrations speed to prestissimo so the repeated phrases evolve in unexpected ways. Moving in and out of tempo, emphasizing the instruments’ metallic nature and layering the expositions among the three are other ways the trio avoids being Monk trio clones. So does the imposition of circular piano chording, cymbal claps and woody walking bass lines. The best clarification of this Monk reconstitution come when the trio members tackle “Lulu’s Back in Town” and “Ugly Beauty” one after another. The Dubin-Warren song is swiftly altered from proper Tin Pan Alley-sounding plinking pianism and rhythmic groove to alternate with eccentric key slamming and hard drum cracks that create Lulu variables. Blending into the Monk composition, its introduction is reshaped with staccato sound detours before the familiar head appears. From that point on, call-and-response involving Rat and Barbieri vaults from squeaky prestissimo to languid adagio, finally confirming its identity at the finale.

Ironically the Monk compositions on The Hasaan, Hope & Monk Project are now so-much part of the Jazz lexicon that abutting the almost-obscure tunes by Philadelphia’s Hassan and the Bronx’s Hope that they almost sound like Songbook candidates. That would likely be sweet revenge for Monk, whose music was scorned during the first part of his career. Although not far out in the 21st Century. the themes’ grooves, repetitive choruses and structured expressiveness also keep them from becoming free music. However Karayorgis/McBride/Gray do their best to emphasize Monk’s individuality – and even add to it. For instance “Trinkle” (sic) is given a darker rendition which almost negates its tinkling character as the pianist slides and shuffles notes and variations, makes space for a brief drum break, and concludes with the final phrase played twice. “Work” works because the heavier than expected piano part reveals a stop-time theme as bongo-like drum slaps and a walking bass line add the swing. A friend of Monk’s, Hope’s tunes are also post-Bop. Judiciously jagged and somewhat gloomy, Karayorgis’ pedal point rhythm on “Stars Over Marrakesh” avoids false exoticism, but subtly suggests the Maghreb at the end with McBride’s arco emphasis as Gray’s cymbal coloration and rim shots push the theme back to Jazz. Seriousness is also emphasized on “Chips”, as circular keyboard reflections pull back to expose varied harmonies and melodies, pull forward with woody double bass thumps and carefully positioned drum smacks, and finally a recap the head. Most obscure, Hasaan’s tunes seem to bounce between Monk’s unexpected emphasis and Hope’s swing sense – or at least that’s how this trio plays them. Brighter and with kinship to 1940s ballads, pressure is also emphasized on “El Hasaan”, with press rolls and slithery keyboard work. Yet the pianist also manages to maintain the modulated beat even as he creates dramatic theme elaborations. Similarly McBride’s up-and-down, back-and-forth, stress moves the melody of “Atlantic Ocean” further away from the piano’s sparkling introduction. With tension then established, descending chords stretch the exposition into unexpected corners as bass and drums maintain a steady pulse.

Remaining in the US, Dedication honors many of the influences on Weiss, who has worked with everyone from Tony Malaby to Josef Doumoulin. Since this is a close-knit trio however, the contributions of the pianist and bassist are as in the foreground as the drummer’s. Only on “For Elvin”, named for Weiss’ favorite drummer Elvin Jones, is the track introduced with splashy press rolls, paradiddles, pops, ruffs and cymbal shakes. Percussion whacks also end the piece, but in between Sacks contributes jumpy, jerky keyboard curves and there’s a sequence where Morgan stretches sounds up and down the strings, practically a capella. Synchronously the three also visit more than rhythm tunes. “For Vivienne” for instance, named for Weiss’ daughter, is a ballad that moves from andante to presto as hardened drum breaks give way to repetitious but not superfast chording from the pianist. With sympathetic rounded notes from the bassist, the piece finally settles into Arcadian reflux. Meanwhile “For Andrei Tarkovsky”, named for the Soviet filmmaker, is atmospheric and almost cinematic. Sacks’ panoramic intro moves from high-pitched key tinkles to low-pitched rolls, with Morgan contributing repetitive strums. A romantic interregnum is later swept away by contrasting single notes from the pianist, bass string slaps and drum reverberations. Formidably the trio can create what could be a swinging threnody with “For George Floyd”. Sacks’ pedal point expression and Weiss’ smacks and slathers move the exposition to a swing groove, though the track is completed with heavier and more percussive timbres that express power, bitterness and likely acrimony.

In contrast, there isn’t much acrimony on Inversi. Instead there’s more affinity as the Anokhi trio explorers the six compositions’ intricacies. Like Weiss, Calcagnile and his themes are more concerned with coloration than rhythm. Pacorig’s mastery of dark rustles as well as in-the-moment swing plus Evangelista’s ability to project both expansive string invention and a necessary horizontal pulse adds to the interface. The most all-embracing and elongated instance of this is on “Litok”. With a piano introduction that starts to thicken as the exposition deepens, Pacorig’s sudden detour into prestissimo reveals both upper key jiggling as well as mid-range theme expression. Coupled with this is a bass-and-drums projected groove, defined through cymbal clanks and double-timed string strokes. Balance is maintained even as Evangelista works his way to the most elevated timbres until the sequence is completed by windy cymbal whooshes and idiophone scrapes and crackles Elsewhere necessary swing is tempered with narrative story telling. “Furioso” may be a snare-driven foot-tapper for example, but the pianist’s mid-range dynamics and slides suggest both melody and moderation. Avoiding the flowery as well as uniform flow, other tunes such as “Malware” and the title track take just enough from each contradiction for uncommon synthesis. The first finds Pacorig’s Bluesy interface pressing on unperturbed with the initial theme until sweeping multi-keys glissandi move past accented drum pressure to reach a leisurely finale. As for “Inversi”, it’s the melodic buzz from Evangelista’s sul ponticello strokes which preserves the introduction, despite powerful drum rumbles until the pianist reprises the theme with dark rumbles as summation. Taking inventive and idiosyncratic concepts when dealing with this combo configuration, the two Italian and two American trios demonstrate the longevity of this popular formation.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Heretic: 1. Carolina Moon 2. Epistrophy 3. Ask Me Now 4. Monk’s Dream 5. All Alone 6. Lulu’s Back in Town 7. Ugly Beauty 8. This Is My Story, This Is My Song 9. Friday The 13th

Personnel: Heretic: Fabrizio Rat (piano); Stefano Risso (bass) and Mattia Barbieri (drums)

Track Listing: 1. Chips 2. Work 3. Atlantic Ones 4. Off Minor 5. Abdullah 6. Evidence 7. El Hasaan 8. Criss Cross 9. Stars Over Marrakesh 10. Epitome 11. Trinkle Tinkle 12. Viceroy 13. Think of One

Personnel: Hasaan: Pandelis Karayorgis (piano); Nate McBride (bass) and Luther Gray (drums)

Track Listing: Dedication: 1. For Tim Smith 2. For Vivienne 3. For Nancarrow 4. For George Floyd 5. For Jacob 6. For Andrei Tarkovsky 7. For Bacharach 8. For Elvin 9. For Grandma May.

Personnel: Dedication: Jacob Sacks (piano); Thomas Morgan (bass) and Dan Weiss (drums and tabla)

Track Listing: Inversi: 1. Inversi 2. Malware 3. Aureo 4. Furioso 5. Litok 6. Malblue

Personnel: Inversi: Giorgio Pacorig (piano); Gabriele Evangelista (bass) and Cristiano Calcagnile (drums and percussion)