The unplugged thing is old hat. So are trios doing loose funk jams barely anchored by ear-catching hooks. But that doesn't mean their albums aren't a blast when well done.
Cezanne finds the Houston-based Drop Trio doing more of the acoustic thing on its third album, although the fast pace and largely improvisational character is unchanged. Drop Trio remains a largely regional band after three years in a crowded field, but like a good roadhouse cafe on Route 66, these players offer the quality substance that makes a real find for those stopping by.
The songs come from a live performance in May of 2005 at the Houston club Cezanne's, hence the album's name. Three are new compositions, the others new or extended interpretations of material from two previous albums, Leap and Big Dipper. An instinct to gripe about the lack of new material mostly disappears after a comparative listen, as most of the older material gets a thorough enough shaking to be fresh.
"Wreck Of The Zephyr," for instance, shifts from a four-minute, steady-beat bit of keyboard noodling on Big Dipper to a ten-minute series of more complex off-the-meter beats, including a loose early solo by drummer Nuje Blattel that gives way to a light ballad by pianist Ian Varley. That gives way to a somewhat chaotic repeating riff before a closing group collaboration. It retains about as much relation to the original as a cousin of the opposite sex.
"Robot Suit I," from the improvised Leap album, goes the opposite direction, from two minutes of freeform organ jamming to a five-minute piano and synth effort that spends some time in a comfortable hook. But like most other songs it shifts themes frequently, elevating it above the vamp-and-beat drone of many jam trios.
Among the new compositions, "Luna" is the most fun because its loose style suits the band's improvisational character (it's described as "a reggae-influenced piece written on stage in San Antonio"). "L.U.G." and "Shelby" are more complex showcases of the group's well-schooled side, but for those preferring solos to themes will find the best moments of the show elsewhere. Varley's meditative piano on "Smithee's Second" and Blattel's high-intensity work on "Invisible Pants" are fine examples of such moments from opposite ends of the style spectrum.
Perhaps the best thing about Cezanne is that it shows Drop Trio has staying power by successfully taking a different artistic approach on each of its albums, despite the lack of new material. If these guys' composition skills remain as fresh as their playing, they should be around for the long haul, and they might get a chance to spend significant amounts of their time beyond their southern baseif one considers that a blessing during the winter months.
Personnel: Patrick Flanagan: bass; Nuje Blattel: drums; Ian Varley: keyboards.