A bass/cello/piano trio, such as is featured on this disc, is a study in dark textures, making this disc sound like the soundtrack to a morose and crabbed European art film. This is especially true of the up-tempo sections of "Paratum 'The Whisper'" and "Strange Tools," which is dominated by high tones, whistles, and inarticulate cries: either this track or the frenetic "1 Piano 4 Hands" would be perfect for the chase scene.
A poem in the liner notes is headed "Equinox 'All Parts Being Equal,'" and that's how Duval, Ulrich, and Stevens play. The title track is an outstanding case in point: there is no clear leader, but all three emerge from the darkness to set the direction for a moment - until one of the others comes to take the music to a different place. Stevens is outstanding as usual, both on his own feature, the insinuating "Watching the River," and throughout the disc. He plays with a delicate touch that gives this music a great deal of its brooding fragility, and explores tonal and pantonal modern classical motifs that are worlds away from the straight-ahead comping of his recent collaboration with trumpeter Valery Ponomarev, Panorama, and even from his sunny and muscular "free" playing in the Fonda-Stevens Group. The string men sometimes raise the temperature by mining the approach of Ornette Coleman's power violin, as on "To Friendship" and elsewhere. But Ulrich and Duval both work through to some gorgeous melodies and delicious textures, often with the same contemporary classical feel that Stevens is exploring.
This is the kind of disc that can be played over and over, with something new to be found each time.
Track listing: The Ladder/up / Paratum "The Whisper" / Solo Cello / Strange Tools / On thin ice / Watching the River / To Friendship / 1 Piano 4 Hands 6 Mallets 1 Whisper / Stretching the Wire / S.H. Drwal 1/98 / Equinox.
Dominic Duval, b, mallets, p, cymbal, vcl; Tomas Ulrich, cel, vcl, whistle; Michael Jefry Stevens, p, mallets.