By Paul Acquaro
Who isn't up for a pleasant surprise from time to time? Especially these days when the surprises tend to be the less welcoming kind, The No Base Trio from Puerto Rico is definitely of the better type, and their eponymous debut is most certainly a welcome one.
The group, formed in San Juan 10 years ago, is Jonathan Suazo on alto saxophone and EWI, Gabriel Vicéns on electric guitar, and Leonardo Osuna on drums. They began as a straight ahead trio, playing throughout Puerto Rico, but their sound has matured into an amalgam of ambient rock and layered electronic foundations, with blasts of free improvisation.
They begin the album with the strum of an expectant chord and the wail of a slightly processed saxophone. The track 'EXT-I' could, in the first moments, go down a slick slide into easy listening prog-rock (is that an actual genre?) but there is something about the hints of dissonance and the rock-oriented bass figure (played on the guitar) that suggest otherwise. Indeed, for the patient listener, the increasingly dominant EWI and the deepening grit of the guitar places a Pat Metheny-like layer over a thickening groove. 'EXT-II' follows a somewhat similar pattern, though a bit darker in tone and growing rougher towards the end. 'EXT-III' begins much differently, a free interplay between the guitar and EWI that fuses into an awkward but alluring groove.
The group next explores varying sonic textures through a couple shorter tracks. 'EXT-V' is notably freely improvised, starting as a solo guitar piece with what sounds like a walking bass, but may in fact be the EWI! 'EXT-VII' offers some extreme ambient textures, while twisting deeper like a corkscrew opening a finely aged bottle of post-rock wine. The final two tracks continue to offer new ideas, but it is 'EXT-IX', which is denoted as a bonus track, that really goes deep into exploration and minimalist drones (it also clocks in at nearly a half-hour, for the hard-core listener).
No Base Trio is not a hasty album by any means, the group takes its time to make its musical statements. The album is certainly worth a listen, and mostly like, it will pleasantly surprise you with its mix of melody and exploration.