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Monday, April 1, 2024

اسم [ism] - Maua (577 Records, 2024)

By Taylor McDowell

Any release by pianist Pat Thomas has the tendency to turn heads, and this is especially so when teamed up with [frequent] coconspirers Antonin Gerbal (drums) and Joel Grip (double bass). Three-quarters of the group أحمد [Ahmed], the trio اسم [ism] similarly explores the jazz lexicon and it’s outer reaches as only these three can do.

Maua is the fourth record by اسم [ism], and the first to be released on 577 Records (their three previous releases were put out by Umlaut Records). Recorded live in Berlin’s Au Topsi Pohl in 2022, the trio evidently crammed on stage with Pat sitting behind a Bösendorfer grand piano that was brought in for their 4-night stint. Maua, beautifully recorded, delivers the bright, bouncing energy of this piano trio and transports the listener to the small German club on that May night.

Much like أحمد [Ahmed], the trio probes jazz forms and swings like hell. But the heavy, hypnotic structures of أحمد [Ahmed] are here replaced with a supple fluidity as the three snake their way through ever-shifting themes. The opening track, Maua, begins its 41-minute odyssey with a breezy, lilting passage of twinkling keys, splashing cymbals and a rubbery, staggering bass. The piece gradually morphs into a full-on swinging affair as they up the tempo. Gerbal and Grip lock in tight, shifting pulse and dynamics in unison and providing the rhythmic springboard from which Thomas dances atop. His airy, melodic lines feel inspired by Art Tatum, with a comfortable amount of chromaticism sprinkled into his runs and comps - think Tatum meets Taylor. For 41-minutes the trio slides in and out of passages that could have been recorded tracks on their own. Slow, cocktail piano themes that feel heavy on the cocktail part escalate into a breakneck swing, then into a bossa-inspired romp. It’s a free-ranging performance that feels like a recorded history of the jazz piano trio format, but with contemporary spin that only اسم [ism] can deliver.

The record closes with a gentler piece, 'Niloo’s Dream.' At only 6-minutes, it’s the perfect comedown at the end of a long, late night. The three deftly navigate a slow, free-form jazz piece that feels like it came from a standards book somewhere. The bar closes, the crowd shuffles out of the club, and اسم [ism] exits the stage..

Maua is striking example that uncompromising music can also be fun. So long as Thomas, Gerbal and Grip continue to make music together, the world is a better place for it.