Valentina Magaletti / Pierpaolo Martino / Steve BeresfordApril 18, 2021
Confront core 18
Yolk Records J2075
Mathew Shipp Trio
ESP Disk 5039
Novel approaches to the expected piano-bass-drum trio are few and far between and with good reason. Every time players create that configuration a minimum of 70 years of history is part of the expositions. Yet like the orchestral symphony or and Eastern European brass band, this instrumental staple is still popular because of the breath of tonal expression available. Trios from three countries work out their own response to the combo’s history with uniformly alluring results while accepting varying degrees of sonic discord. Curiously each trio expresses its ideas over 11 tracks,
Arguably the most traditional of the three, but also the most all-star, at least in France, is Orbit. The group is made up of two of the three founders of the Yolk label, bassist Sébastien Boisseau, who has also worked with among many others Hans Lederman and Daniel Humair plus pianist Stéphan Oliva, who has worked with everyone from Claude Tchamitchian to Paul Motian. American drummer Tom Rainey, who has played with countless musicians on both sides of the Atlantic, is Orbit’s third member. It’s a working trio when gigs fit into their myriad other commitments, Meanwhile The Unidentifiable negates its title by featuring three of New York’s most accomplished improvisers: pianist Mathew Shipp, bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Newman Taylor Baker. London-based Frequency Disasters, the most outré of the set, includes well-known British keyboardist Steve Beresford, who plays with folks like Evan Parker and John Russell, plus two Bari, Italy natives: percussionist Valentina Magaletti who plays in bands like The Oscillation and bassist Pierpaolo Martino, who has worked with Eugenio Colombo and others.
Interpreting seven Oliva compositions, three by Boisseau and a Marc Ducret line, Orbit maintains an animated, open and usually playful interaction with energetic slides and excursions from the pianist, fluid bass smacks and sophisticated patterning from the drummer. At the same time a few detours into balladic mode are expressed. Moving forward and backwards, as on “Gene Tierney”, Boisseau strums low pitches as Oliva expresses the elegant melody with responsive chording. The subsequent “Processione” relies on Rainey’s martial drum beats to regularize the exposition’s shuffles, not allowing Oliva’s theme to become too sprightly. When it comes to interpreting Ducret’s “Inflammable” however, a responsive secondary theme shakes up the rhythmic response to Oliva’s initial harpsichord-like timbres and climaxes with a slowed-down version of the head. While the finale is “Lonyay Utça”, which appears to be Boisseau’s Galic variant on a Nordic ballad, Oliva’s preceding “Spirales” signals that the trio members can swing with the best of them. Its unforced groove in a mid-1970s Hancock-Corea mode is characterized by drum rattles and an unvarying beat from the bassist which lifts spirits as the piece unfolds. While pressurized asides are introduced elsewhere, the overall impression of the CD’s tracks is of well-played contemporary narratives.
The same sort of message is conveyed on the Shipp disc, which shows that players like these are much more than one-trick-pony avant gardists. Not that the lines aren’t stretched and reconstituted in an original manner throughout. But the responsive groove displayed on many of the tracks wouldn’t disappoint piano-trio-fanciers who think the art reached its zenith with Ahmad Jamal. For instance “Cosmic Blunders” seems to come from that same Hancock-Corea sound well from which Oliva tapped. Shipp, who composed all the tunes, here highlights a top adagio line while propelling darker pedal echoes. Meanwhile Bisio’s fluid thumps along with echoing piano cross tones intensify the lower pitches, joining with drum patterning to sluice the reconstituted theme to a logical ending. Using equitable pulsations and swift stops to push themes forward Bisio asserts himself when needed, as does Baker, who introduces “Virgin Psych Space 1” with a series of mallet pops for kettle drum-like effects and then generally stays out of the way. The pianist speeds the stop-start exposition to allegro with extra power from pressing forearm and elbows on the keyboard. Meanwhile the penultimate and final tracks demonstrate how the trio can expertly score on both sides of the outside/inside continuum. “Regeneration” is another light swinger that almost foot taps into Errol Garner territory with repeated Latinesque variations on the piano patterns, swirling bass pumps and echoing drum splatters. The final “New Heaven and New Earth” is prodded into action by Bisio’s sharp sul tasto scrubs with Shipp’s multi-fingered chording and Baker’s rattles and pops pull the vibrant line further and further out. Building to a pressurized climax, thin string squeaks and refined brush work swish the theme to a precise end point.
Unafraid of being defined as free improvisers, Beresford, Martino and Magaletti also season their performances with rhythmic smarts and subtle asides that confirm a side of unselfconscious humor. What that means is that the three regularly crisscross the line among Jazz, Free Jazz and Free Improv, Beresford may worry the inner piano strings or stop keys to produce wider resonances and dissonant arabesques at certain points, output a Bebop-style piano motif or on “Boyish Animation” clip, click and cross pivot a solo with Monkish feints and Cecil Taylor-like dynamic contrasts. Still the group ends the disc with “The Delusion Metabolist” that despite its grandiloquent title sounds as if it came out of an R&B session. The slapping bass line and grabbing drum pulse contributes, although subsequent whooshes and reflections from pianist-projected electronic confirm the track’s post-modernism. Preceding that, “A Mellow Booming” works out equivalent concepts. Plinking piano lines stretch theme variations with unexpected thematic jumps as Martino’s unvarying bass line holds the bottom and outer-space-like whooshes list from the electronics. Keeping the beats varied but balanced, Magaletti usually sticks to reticent drum patterning or cymbal swishes though an occasional J. Arthur Rank-like gong resonation sneaks through. Probably the best definition of what Martino does is on “A Clumsy Title” however. After his torque rubs turn to buzzing sul tasto squeaks, he introduces a series of string variations, rushing the allegro theme forward as the pianist distractedly tinkles with contrapuntal hunts and pecks. The piece finally ends with lug-loosening yelps from Magaletti.
Following individual paths, each trio confirms why this configuration has maintained its popularity for decades.
Track Listing: Orbit: 1. Split Screen 2. Wavin 3. Gene Tierney 4. Processione 5. Le Tourniquet 6. Cercles 7. Inflammable 8. Polar Blanc 9. Around Ornette 10. Spirales 11. Lonyay Utça
Personnel: Orbit: Stéphan Oliva (piano); Sébastien Boisseau (bass) and Tom Rainey (drums)
Track Listing: Unidentifiable: 1. Blue Transport System 2. Trance Frame 3. Phantom Journey 4. Dark Sea Negative 5. The Dimension 6. Loop 7. The Unidentifiable 8. Virgin Psych Space 1 9. Virgin Psych Space 2 10. Regeneration 11. New Heaven and New Earth
Personnel: Unidentifiable: Matthew Shipp (piano); Michael Bisio (bass) and Newman Taylor Baker (drums)
Track Listing: Frequency: 1. Low Gulp 2. Studded Shirt 3. Tuttodipunta 4. Pink Quote 5. A Clumsy Title 6. Energetic Binge 7. Cosmic Blunders 8. Boyish Animation 9. Frequency Disasters 10. A Mellow Booming 11. The Delusion Metabolist
Personnel: Frequency: Steve Beresford (prepared piano, toys and electronics); Pierpaolo Martino (bass) and Valentina Magaletti (drums and percussion)