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Friday, July 29, 2016

Jonas Cambien Trio - A Zoology of the Future (Clean Feed, 2016) ****½

By Derek Stone
Jonas Cambien is a Belgian-born, Norway-based pianist who has here joined with two native Norwegians (André Roligheten on reeds and Andreas Wildhagen on drums) to produce an exciting, concise recording that draws from the well of free jazz’s past and present, that rummages through the box of available sounds and methods and combines them to form something decidedly unique. While other groups might try to mask the seams, however, attempting to lump all the disparate elements together into a fluid whole, the Jonas Cambien Trio make no such pretensions: in fact, they revel in the ramshackleness, producing an album that is absolutely infectious in its wild, wide-eyed exuberance. 

 The first track, “Gulf,” is something of a teaser - an appetizer, so to speak, and an atmosphere-builder. When “We the King” kicks off with Wildhagen’s martial, no-frills percussion, we start to get a sense of what this trio is all about. While there are moments of relative complexity and virtuosity, the group seems to be more devoted to the rhythmic, the repetitive, and the exultant. Wildhagen’s drums clatter, clink, and clang, a veritable junkyard of sound, and Cambien never strays far from the central melody. As the piece progresses, the structure gets more rickety, but it never changes its shape, and it never falls apart. The next piece, “Clap,” tosses the melody out altogether: it’s almost purely driven by stark rhythms from Wildhagen and Cambien, as well as exhalations from Roligheten’s saxophone. Here, the group toy with the idea of the piano trio, working together in ways that deliberately subvert their roles - as these deliriously wonderful noises suggest, the point is not to fulfill a role, to do everything “by the book,” but to simply come together and create. That’s not to say they are not capable of producing accessible melodies. Take “Times,” for example: the main figure is a lovely, circular one, and it boasts a timelessness that links it to some of the most memorable pieces in jazz history. 

 “Frosk” carries hints of minimalism, with spacious, repetitive rhythms that gradually accrete and build. At one point, Roligheten takes a cue from Roland Kirk and plays two saxes at once! A word on Roligheten: he’s a reedist of the highest order, but that commendation isn’t just deserved because of his technical skill. It’s because he’s not afraid to take risks, to reject the typical notion of what a saxophone should “sound” like. While that’s not an entirely uncommon approach in the world of free jazz, Roligheten does more than just bleat or blow maniacally - he’s always aware of what’s going on around him, and he integrates himself accordingly. In “Sing,” for example, he barely rises above a bloated whisper, and the notes he does produce are terse and rough. However, his rhythmic sense is impeccable; for him, the saxophone is just as much a percussion instrument as anything else. The same could be said for the leader, Jonas Cambien. He’s not a showy pianist, and he takes a simple approach to the way that the melodies unfold: in short, maintain them, throw in some frills whenever you get a chance, but, above all, make sure that the rhythms are firmly in place. It’s this simplicity, though, this reduction of the piano to its core components, that makes his compositions so exciting. These pieces are “free” not because of how much complexity they add, but because of how much they strip away. 

If this album represents the sound of the future (as its title suggests), I won’t complain. It’s three men, a pile of instruments, and an aversion to musical convention. Mix those all together, and you get the wild racket that is A Zoology of the Future. Highly recommended!