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Thursday, June 20, 2024

Kodian Trio & Kodian Plus

Kodian Trio - Black Box (Raw Tonk Records, 2024)

Kodian Plus - Disengage (New Wave of Jazz, 2023)

By Lee Rice Epstein

For about 10 years, the power trio of drummer Andrew Lisle, guitarist Dirk Serries, and saxophonist Colin Webster have been tearing up the UK and European scene. Setting themselves apart from other improvising trios by rejecting clichés at every turn, they’ve nevertheless remained relatively off the radar of most US-based fans of free jazz and improvised music. If this is your first time hearing about them, for example, Black Box is their ninth album overall, eighth as a trio, showcasing two live sets from March 2022, recorded at the Black Box in Münster, Germany.

Serries has defied conventions for 40 years, first as VidnaObmana and later as leader or member of a number of improvising groups. Lisle and Webster are like two halves of a beating heart, their flow is so natural and elegant; for a stateside comparison, think of Dave Rempis and Tim Daisy—in many ways, Rempis is a fitting point of reference for listening to Webster, and this trio is a bit like the one with Rempis, Daisy, and pianist Matt Piet. The music at times leans moody and atmospheric, then breaks into scorching hot syncopated attacks, Lisle skirting along like Rashied Ali. And here’s what makes Kodian Trio unique among free jazz acts: both sets demonstrate their knack for building ambient, quiet spaces in the music. Where other groups might simply have players drop out for the introspective section, here you have all three players trading whole tones and creative techniques, as playful as it is stirring.

Two days later, Lisle, Serries, and Webster brought in brass player Charlotte Keeffe and pianist Martina Verhoeven to form Kodian Plus, an expanded group recorded a blazing studio session (here’s hoping there are also live sets waiting to be released). Keeffe has been, for me, the discovery of the decade. A dynamic player with a clear vision, she matches Webster for sheer inventiveness, both of them playing with breath, valves and keys, and tones to make radical, dramatic sounds and melodic lines. Verhoeven, Serries’s spouse, has played with Serries and Webster in various free jazz lineups for over 10 years. Although she also plays bass and cello, on Disengage, Verhoeven only plays piano, although that phrasing greatly diminishes what she does with the instrument. Like many of her contemporaries, the piano is a whole instrument, not merely a set of keys at the end. And so, like Serries, Webster, and Keeffe, she almost takes the instrument apart sonically and reassembles it, component sound by component sound. After some languidly paced explorations, the quintet burns brightly, pulsating and boiling over with so much energy, it should leave any listener buzzing, eager to catch them as soon as possible.