It had to happen: the popularity of the Swedish piano trio E.S.T. is making its presence felt on both sides of the Atlantic. Canadian bassist Simon Fisk's latest disc, Intent
, demonstrates the same kind of pop sensibility, albeit with a freer complexion. Similarly, Austrian pianist Martin Gasselsberger and his group mg3's new release, 2nd Move
, can easily be lumped into E.S.T. territory. And while there is a clear precedence in Gasselsberger's refined approachrelying on lyrical themes and improvisation over relatively simple vamps and changesthere are
differences that make 2nd Move
an entity unto itself.
If E.S.T. is the elegant alternative to the Bad Plus, then mg3 goes a step further. E.S.T. has always incorporated the use of electronics, while mg3 is unabashedly acoustic. E.S.T. is a collectiveall three members of the group are credited with all compositionswhile mg3 is clearly Gasselsberger's show, even though bassist Roland Kramer and drummer Gerald Endstrasser are essential to the group sound. And, finally, mg3 never strays into aggressive tonalities or textures2nd Move is, from start to finish, accessible and easy on the ears. While E.S.T.'s Dan Berglund is known to hit the distortion box and creating searing arco solos, mg3's Kramer plays with a softer approach, always supportive and rarely stepping to the fore.
But Gasselsberger's compositions do come from a similar place that is plainly European in ambience, with a playing style that is clearly rooted in Keith Jarrett, like that of E.S.T.'s Esbjörn Svensson. There's little in the way of traditional swing to be found on the discalthough the relaxed groove of the 5/4 "Peace of Mind has some of the lilt. If anything, there's more of a light pop approach rhythmically, combined with a kind of pared-down classical impressionism.
But while mg3's approach is light, it shouldn't be mistaken for being lightweight. That mg3 should choose to take the delicacy and elegance of E.S.T. a step further, with a sound that has absolutely no sharp edges, simply makes even their up-tempo tunes feel calm and at ease. "Revolution and the blues of "Watch the children play may be slightly funky, and the aptly-titled "Jarretty may sound like something from Jarrett's '70s European Quartetbut paradoxically more rigid in form, even as it is more relaxed in pace and intensitybut underneath it all mg3 aims for a consistent sing-song approach that makes the entire set highly approachable without sacrificing integrity.
Some say that it takes a strongly developed player to be able to play with space, adopting a less-is-more philosophy. If that's the case then Gasselsberger, Kramer, and Endstrasser are all more advanced than the airy and unhurried music of 2nd Move might imply. Confident playing abounds, but with an attention to the demands of the song and disinterest in the kind of overt virtuosity that demands five notes where one would do, 2nd Move will unquestionably appeal to fans of E.S.T., but it should not be mistaken as a simple knockoff.
Personnel: Martin Gasselsberger (piano, composer), Roland Kramer (acoustic bass), Gerald Endstrasser (drums)