The jazz trio, piano, bass, and drums is sacred ground. To venture there is to tread upon the path set down by the legends of jazz. To use this medium to express your musical views is the equivalent of using white marble and sculpting to express your view of the human form. You work in the shadows of the greats, dead and alive. So when I slid Variations the latest recording by Trichotomy, the Australian jazz trio into my CD player, I had expectations. To name the great trios is futile. Suffice it to say there are many, and many have set the standard. I only have to think of the work of Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack Dejohnette to be reminded that the language of the Gods is still spoken today.
Variations is a demonstration that jazz is a global language, and this trio speaks it very well! The mastery by which Sean Foran(piano), John Parker(drums) and Pat Marchisella(bass) express their musical views is delightful to listen to. They possess the vocabulary of well-trained musicans, with a well traveled dialect in the classics, as well as modern interpretations. The opening track, "Island of the Sun", pulsed on the kick drum beats and ostinato laid down by Parker. Foran built on that strong groove and even when the song went quiet, you could hear that power pent up under the pulsing beat of the strings of Marchisella's bass. At about 2:00 into the song, the trio launches into an explosion of energy then transitions into a sensuous exchange of solos, the work of Marchisella being the highlight of that track.
"At The Right Moment" was reminiscent of a Keith Jarrett piece in that it had that sadness within it, and the individual note dynamics of the piano work that makes you feel each impact on the ivories as if Foran were wired to your soul. It is the ability of a pianist to take you into the music like that and beckon you into the mood before they lay out the rest of the story that makes this a world-class trio. Their classical training, the discipline of the mood, tempo and dynamics is so evident in this piece. Parker uses the kit as a soft and sensitive filter to enhance the work of Foran. All the while Marchisella is providing a foundation for the movement. I can best describe this as hauntingly familiar, but so fresh. The production of this recording is appreciated on this track too. From the mic settings to the mixing, some extra special care went into this recording. My compliments to team at ABC Studios Southbank and Ben Stewart who did the mixing, and Ben Turner who did the mastering at Finesplice in London. You can play this well and if the production team can't pick it up, then you don't hear it. On Variations you not only hear it, you feel it. It is of the caliber of the work of CTI!
"Branching Out" is the third track and gets things moving quickly. Again there is an ostinato to lock you into the groove and then the trio just skates along that groove with an energy and dynamic that insists you become engaged. The melody of the song is dramatic and has deep meaning to it. As you listen it is transporting you. You feel like you are watching two lovers trying to absorb Paris on a Sunday afternoon. The views, the action, the high sun, and then as the day lingers on, the shadows, the smells of the restaurants, the lights come up and you hear music coming from the doors of the clubs and bistros. They walk together trying not to miss anything. Before they know it they are swirling and the lights, smells and sounds are too much for either of them, they collapse on a bench. Foran's compositions all move you in this way, they are places, maybe Sydney, maybe Melbourne, maybe Paris, but they are real places. You want to revisit each, more than once!
Parker changes it up a bit on the fourth track. "Start", Parker's composition is powerful and dark. Foran treats the piece with the intensity it appeared to require to issue its moodiness to the listener. As the song develops, listen to the careful use of empty space that the trio employs. It is as powerful as the notes Parker chose. I think that is the brilliance of this piece, the attention to negative space. The composition is just delightful, the string work of Powell and Hoey add so much to the emotion of this piece. John Babbage applies a careful sense of dynamic in his contribution on the alto saxophone. Again, I must repeat these musicians know how to move you!
With "Ascent", Sean Foran gives us yet another perspective on the trio by utilizing Lawrence English and his electronics as a mood enhancement and a canvas for the Miles-tinted trumpet work of Peter Knight. The space between the notes is more important than the notes themselves, and Knight and Foran work around the edges with such precision. The rhythm section is careful not to step on any of the empty spaces but keep the entire ensemble plugged into the time and space. This piece also very well put together acoustically.
I was only half-way through the first listen and I had become hooked on the style of Trichotomy. I has heard enough to know that these guys knew each other well, knew their music better, and had become one. So the rest of the listen, and the entire review for that matter had become a real treat. I couldn't wait to hear what they would put forth next. The combination of classical, jazz, the avante garde made this CD a diverse and yet well assembled piece. The sixth track, another composed by Parker, had train wreck dynamics and yet the whole piece held together by the precision with which the three built the scene. After the wreck, the music was like a Phoenix rising up from the ashes. "Variations on a Bad Day" was exactly that, all the music that would be the sound track to a bad day. This is what I mean about Trichotomy, they paint real pictures with their compositions and use the various styles to put color into the work.
Parker is the powerhouse composer. His compositions belong as sound tracks to action adventure movies. So tightly executed by the trio that you can feel the heat, the sweat, the blood! You can see window glass explode, hear the doors slam, see the Porsche speed away. There is that much energy in the pieces. "Chunk" is that kind of piece. All dynamics, all movement in jerks and spurts and yet you are expecting the chase to take up at any moment, and as if on cue, it does. This song "rocks" if I can say that within the context of a jazz CD review, but it really does! I loved it!
Parker's last composition on this CD, "Please", refutes all my previous comments and delivers a gentle and emotional ballad of sorts. A gentle melody filled with hope and expectation. This composition is what you would think "Please" would sound like if you did not know the word itself but need to express the intent, purpose or emotion of the concept. It is not 'may I', it is not 'thank you' it is a heart-felt appeal,"Please". Foran treats the theme with the emotion it was written with. Such a simple melody and yet it carries the entire emotional weight of the word. Marchisella uses the energy of the bass to emphasize the underlying sadness of the one who asks,"Please", You never really feel quiet satisfied that the please was followed by "thank you"!
I hope by now the reader can appreciate the attraction and appreciation I have for the work by Trichotomy. Variations is their third full-length CD and is for me the first time I am experiencing this brilliant work. I hope that my review is somewhat of a window into their work on Variations and I have left some surprises for you to go listen for yourself. If you do, you will not be disappointed. Trichotomy are the essence of the jazz trio, they bring skill, creativity and a vision to their work. They also have gelled into one organism with three different characters, and they have evolved their musical personalities to express the greater whole than the three could provide alone. I count this CD among the best that I have come across in my continuing explorations into new jazz music.