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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Piano trios galore

Piano trios being one of the most popular line-ups in jazz, it is hard to keep up with all the new releases coming out, let alone give them the attention they deserve. I have not listened in-depth to all the albums below, but I ranked them in order of preference, which is also and indicator of their sense of adventure.

Sten Sandell Trio - Face Of Tokyo (PNL, 2010) ****½

Released on drummer Paal Nilssen-Love's own PNL label, the trio further consists of Sten Sandell on piano and Johan Berthling on bass. Recorded live in Japan in 2008, the album consists of two tracks: "Face Up", and "Face Down", for twice more than half an hour of quite intense musical explorations. The first track is a high energy work-out, the second starts with counter-rhythmic percussion, full of explosive power and creativity, Berthling joins on bass, first plucked, and when Sandell joins he moves to arco, while the pianist plays some eery chords, gradually driving up the tempo and energy level for again a dense improvisation, that suddenly collapses for some minimalist interaction, with all three musicians exploring the more uncommon aspects of their instruments. In stark contrast to some of the other albums below, the album demonstrates that technical mastery and musical vision make it possible to bring depth and emotional drive even with the most common of all jazz line-ups.

Dawn Of Midi - First (Accretions, 2010) ****½

"Dawn Of Midi" is something else. The trio, consisting of Qasim Naqvi from Pakistan on percussion, Aakaash Israni from India on bass, and Amino Belyamani from Morocco on piano, form, despite their different nationalities a really strong unit, playing minimalist open-ended improvisations, quite sensitive and/or intense, often eery, with unusual tempo changes and punctuation, very hypnotic, like waves lapping at the shore, retreating and coming back. Their stubborn focus on their quite special musical concept gives this album a fantastic coherence, something you listen to in one go, with all pieces fitting fitting perfectly into the whole. Wonderful free lyricism and suspense at the same time. The question is whether this will prove to be sufficient to go on this mode without becoming overly repetitive, but at least for one album, it's a sheer delight from beginning to end.

Listen from eMusic and Accretions.

Correction - Two Nights In April (Ayler, 2010)****

Moving from Norway to Sweden, here is trio with Sebastian Bergström on piano, Joachim Nyberg on bass, and Emil Åstrand-Melin on drums. The eleven tracks were recorded live on two sessions in April 2009, hence the not-so-creative title. The music is creative by contrast, but uses all the jazz ingredients, from bop to more free and minimalist influences, mixing it all together in a great stew full of unexpected flavors and texture. As Mats Gustafsson keeps repeating in the liner notes : these guys listen to each other, which allows them to shift and change things in a whim, understand where the other ones are going, and join telepathically. The musicians keep the pieces relatively short, which is a good idea, because the compactness leads to focus leads to intensity leads to a story to tell. In this way they don't overplay their hand, and demonstrate through the quantity of the pieces what they have in store. And that's a lot.

 Listen and buy from Ayler Records.

Curtis Clark Trio - Táági (NoBusiness, 2010) ***½

Pianist Curtis Clark teams up with the González brothers, Aaron on bass and Stefan on drums.On each piece Clark sets the tone, by long solo introductions on the piano, often quite bluesy in approach, then opening the improvisation for the two brothers, who join full of enthusiasm. Clark's compositions are lyrical and gentle, meditative almost, and are actually in stark contrast to the brothers' usual approach, which is more creative and boundary-breaking, whether in Yells At Eels or the punk bands they've played in. That being said, they acquit themselves well in this new environment, sometimes even pushing Clark into more adventurous territory, when "Water Colors" evolves into "New York City Wildlife". It is nice, post-boppish, but not essential.
    Eri Yamamoto - In Each Day, Something Good (Aum Fidelity, 2009) ***

     Moving away from the improvisations above, the excellent pianist Eri Yamamoto with her long-time collaborators David Ambrosio on bass and Ikuo Takeuchi on drums. The music is the accompaniment for a silent movie "I Was Born, But ...", made in 1932 by Yasujiro Ozu, one of Japan's best movie directors. That being said, the music does not ressemble the period of the movie, and it can just stand on its own as nice post-bop, sometimes bluesy, but always very lyrical and performed with subtlety.

    Listen from eMusic.

    Frank Kimbrough - Rumors (Palmetto, 2010) ***

    Also not entirely my preferred genre, but incredibly good within a more mainstream genre, is the new Frank Kimbrough trio, with the leader on piano, Masa Kamaguchi on bass, and Jeff Hirshfield on drums. The skills and the mature inventiveness drip from every note, in the style of Paul Bley and Keith Jarrett in the seventies. So nothing innovating or new, just laid-back quality.

    Listen and download from Palmetto.

    Espen Eriksen Trio: You Had Me At Goodbye (Rune Grammofon, 2010) 
    Back to Norway for the last CD, with the debut album of the Espen Eriksen trio, with Eriksen on piano, Lars Tormod Jenset on bass, and Andreas Bye on drums. A worthwhile first album, but a little too mellow for my taste, with a little too explicit themes and approaches. These guys seem too young to play such unadventurous music. But I leave the appreciation to you.

    Listen and download from eMusic.

    © stef


    joesh said...

    I see Espen Eriksen Trio got 0 stars! Is it really none at all (I thought that 0 stars didn't get a review), or did you just forget to put some in?

    Stef said...

    Hi Joe,

    I just could not make my mind up. I did not want to rate a debut album. It's worth mentioning, but I don't want to rate it.

    You judge.


    Michael Campbell said...

    Hey Stef,

    Thanks for mentioning some great music here. Hey, where do you get that Sten Sandell Trio disc?

    Stef said...

    Hi Michael,

    You can get it directly from Paal Nilssen-Love :


    Michael Campbell said...

    Hey Stef, sorry to bother you again. On Paal's website I only found pictures of his discography. Is that where you purchased it?

    Unknown said...

    You're right on once again Stef, the Sten Sandell is amazingly good.