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Thursday, November 15, 2018

Trio Generations - Unfolding (Particular Recordings, 2018) ****

By Eyal Hareuveni

The Trio Generations brings together three singular, free-improvisers from different generations. The eldest is British vocal artist and tap dancer Maggie Nichols, known for her work with the legendary Spontaneous Music Ensemble led by drummer John Stevens and from the Les Diaboliques trio with fellow innovative female improvisers - Swiss pianist Irène Schweizer and French bass player Joëlle Léandre. Swedish classically-trained pianist Lisa Ullén is a generation younger than Nichols, and is known for her collaborations with double bass player Nina de Heney and cellist Okkyung Lee as well as from Anna Högberg Attack. The youngest is this trio's initiator, Swedish, Trondheim-based, 20" bass drum player Matilda Rolfsson,  known from the trio Ma/Ti/Om with British double bass player Tim Fairhall and reeds player Tom Ward.

Neither age differences, geographical lengths, nor the nuances in their schools of free-improvisation place obstacles in the immediate and organic interplay of this trio. Rolfson organized the first performances of this trio in London’s I’klectik Art Lab and Café OTO, where the group hosted double bass player John Edwards, and in Cheltenham’s Xposed club, where the trio hosted reeds player Chris Cundy, in 2016. Unfolding, Trio Generations’ debut album was recorded a year later in Intelligent Sound’s atelier in the suburbs of Stockholm. Rolfsson took part in the mixing and mastering process of it.

The title captures faithfully the spirit of this unique trio - impressionistic, often poetic, and sometimes even abstract free-improvisations that incorporate elements from free jazz, contemporary music, theatre and vaudeville. Nichols’s wordless vocalizations or spontaneous talks are at the center, often marking the initial course of the improvisations, but then all is open to interpretation and the six pieces never commit themselves to any familiar territory. “Pretty Face”, with Nichols’ spiky comment “what a disgrace”, offers Trio Generations in its most playful, anarchist and eccentric mode, exploring sonic adventures, each one is stranger than the other. “The Devil in Me” brings a poetic transformation of Nichols intuitive utterances to an imaginary, fluid textures. Ullén and Rolfsson manage to frame Nichols’ totally spontaneous singing in a suggestive narrative, full of sudden turns, and subtle, mysterious tension. The title-piece and “Free Formations” push the fast-shifting, tensed dynamics of the trio to more dark, sometimes abstract and on other times even conflicting terrains, stressing the distinct, inventive languages of Ullén and Rolfsson. Unfolding ends with a radical, sarcastic abstraction of the standard “My Funny Valentine”, but highlights a strong feminist message: “don't change your hair for me / not if you care for me”.