Cooper-Moore / Tom Abbs / Chad Taylor / Chris Abrahams / Lloyd Swanton / Tony Buck

April 5, 2004

Triptych Myth

Hopscotch 14


Drive By

Fish of Milk RER NECKS3

Piano, bass and drums combos have been one of the defining configurations of improvised music for more than five decades. But as these two exceptional trio sessions prove, with the right ideas and techniques, there’s still plenty that can be done with this traditional form.

Microtonalists, Australians The Necks do cheat a little bit on DRIVE BY. Using all the resources of a modern studio, keyboard man Chris Abrahams is able to doubletrack himself on piano, electric piano and organ, while drummer Tony Buck adds different percussion and samples. But seemingly tireless bassist Lloyd Swanton still uses his acoustic model to shape the rhythmic foundation of the one, more than hour-long piece that makes up the CD.

Triptych Myth, a trio of committed New Yorkers doesn’t stray that far out. Although the three — pianist Cooper-Moore bassist Tom Abbs and drummer Chad Taylor — have shown off their skills on additional instruments in the past, the instrumentation on their debut CD is as strict as on one of Oscar Peterson’s 1960s LPs.

Hypnotic as all get out, multi layered DRIVE BY begins with a snaking electric piano lines and whistling electronics, succeeded by metronomic, repeated acoustic piano cadenza, a throbbing organ vamp and a kicking drum backbeat. And that’s all in the first five minutes.

Soon, over a background of hollow, echoing tones, the pianist introduces the theme and its ancillary variations, while pulsating Morse code-like organ riffs soon segment the descending piano clusters. As the sounds intensify there’s much tension and very little release. With studio wizardry Abrahams — and the others — plays both soloist and accompanist roles.

Masters of understatement, mostly unobtrusive Buck and steady fingered Swanton are able to shift and accelerate the tempo almost inaudibly. That is until you realize that the backing instrumental riffs have become different when the sampled sounds of yelling and shouting children’s voice are added to the mix.

Warmer and still slightly quicker, the kids’ sounds presage intensified rhythmic tautness that accompanies the reoccurring piano motif that holds the piece together. Soon, as Buck begins cross sticking and Swanton’s beat stays forthrightly solid, the pianist redoubles his dynamics and feeds harder organ or electric piano chords into the mix. Oblique and unidentified oscillating waves shoot from one side of the soundfield to the other, as Abrahams ends his solo with repeated right handed piano flourishes. Shortly afterwards the bassist and drummer gear down the rhythm. It’s succeeded by what sounds like some exotic fowl warbling, and that continues for another 30 seconds after the formal music fades away

Listeners should feel as if they’ve gone on a physical journey, and one that is so mesmerizing that it has cleansed them in the process.

If DRIVE BY starts off slowly, then the other CD explodes like a blaze in a firecracker factory. Reminiscent of the go-for-broke rhythmic lyricism of Herbie Nichols, pianist Moore begins with blurred right handed runs that with extra pressure evolve to strummed and cascading chords. Soon he’s covering the keyboard with high- frequency repeated phrases, Abbs counters with a walking bass line and Taylor with flams and ruffs.

At intervals varying the production with reggae backbeats or Monkish runs, the three exhibit their facility with ballads, burners and rhythm tunes. Both the bassist ands the drummer get solo tracks to themselves, but ones which fit in with the overall conception rather than excuses to flaunt technique. Throughout the CD, you hear how Triptych manages to utilize the jazz tradition without being enslaved by it.

On “Spencer’s Eyes”, fort instance, the pianist shows that in spite of his fire elsewhere, he can capably handle a mid- tempo ballad. He plays a simple, light-fingered rondo while most of the action is expressed in Taylor’s busy paradiddles, cymbal smacks and understated mallet work.

“Susan”, on the other hand, is a carefully voiced and modulated swing fest, featuring jaunty interface between the three musicians. Using repetitive chording the pianist hunkers down on vibrating note clusters as he increases his dynamics, piling half-remembered quotes from other tunes into the mix, before cycling back to the main (Herbie) Hancockian theme. Finally this distinctive foot taper ends with drum rebounds and a powerful bass line.

“Spatter Matter” is more exciting still, as Moore, intent on subtle swing, unveils

flashing chords and chiming runs, then after double timing produces a waterfalls of splayed notes. His finger pressure is so fine that high frequency tremolos seem to dance off the black and white keys. Before a quick, to-the-point solo from Abbs, Moore sneaks over to the right hand side for some quick jabs, then using contrasting dynamics, reprises the theme one last time even quicker than before.

Musically there’s practically nothing displeasing on the trio’s debut CD. If there are bungles, it’s that the tracks have been numbered incorrectly, so that a couple of the “Stop Time” minute-long, break tunes appear out of sequence.

Other than that, either of these sessions can be held up as an indication that old forms like piano trios can certainly learn new tricks.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Drive: 1. Drive By

Personnel: Drive: Chris Abrahams (piano, electric piano, organ); Lloyd Swanton (bass); Tony Buck (drums, percussion, samples)

Track Listing: Triptych: 1. Stem Cell 2. Nautilus 3. The Fox 4. Stop Time #1 5. Ricochet 6. Harare 7. Stop Time #2 8. Raising Knox 9. Spatter Matter 10. Stop Time #3 11. Spencer’s Eyes 12. Susan

Personnel: Triptych: Cooper-Moore (piano); Tom Abbs (bass); Chad Taylor (drums)