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Geoff Young Trio: In Between (2004)

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Geoff Young Trio: In Between How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

In Between , the excellent new album from Toronto's Geoff Young Trio, is forty-eight minutes of sonic paradox. The trio is composed of guitarist Young, bassist Jim Vivian, and Romhog Records factotum Barry Romberg on drums, and on this collection of six Young originals and one standard, they play an utterly beautiful style of acoustic guitar trio chamber jazz. Be warned, however, that this particular synergy of talents could make some listeners squirm in their seats: this austere music doesn't evoke the wide-open Missouri sky of Pat Metheny, but rather a dark, cold Ontario night where blizzards loom and wolves prowl just beyond the campfire. Indeed, the paradox is that such close, lovely and listening playing here conveys such a sense of desolate distance; this is subtly ominous jazz.

Young sticks to acoustic guitar on this CD; there's a tiny bit of electric hidden in the middle of "Drinking Songs," but it's easy to miss. Generally he and bassist Vivian play abstract, deliberate themes not so much over Romberg's roiling, swelling drums as alongside them. Romberg's got his own style, but there is plenty of Elvin Jones in Barry's offbeat accents and in his sheer power and force—no brushwork on these tracks, no matter how quiet the other two are playing—and some Jack DeJohnette, too, in his vast musicality and creativity. Romberg seldom keeps time here, and his surging, out-of-time rolls on "So Long" and the title track produce a unique nervous tension. When he does actually keep time, it's doubly effective for its rarity: partway through the epic "Drinking Songs," Romberg starts swinging hard over a unison bass/guitar phrase, and it's powerful—and in this musical context of unresolved themes and no-time playing, it's something of a relief, if a temporary one.

Young and Vivian, in contrast, have a unity of sound and purpose, Vivian burbling and throbbing down low against Young's dancing, precisely articulated guitar—Young recorded at times in double-tracked pairs and at other times alone. Either way, it's the leader who is most prominent on this disc, both in his composing and his playing: this is a group session, but this is a guitar album.

There's nothing bad on this album. "Tea at High Noon" is a long piece with a hypnotic intro of Vivian's groaning, arco bass and Romberg's hand percussion. Eventually Young appears, playing some characteristic descending figures until, over three minutes in, the Spanish theme that is the essence of the song emerges. Young is strong-fingered and dominant here but Vivian is there, too, responding and commenting, all moving towards a finale of Young's multitracked acoustics over some choice Romberg bombast. The shorter "Chance Meeting" epitomizes what's happening on this session: its theme is abstract and unsettling, hanging over Romberg's churning drums like an unresolved question. Similarly, "The Three Lauras" has a bass/guitar unison phrase that's haunting, but might make some reach for the Xanax as it recurs throughout the song like a not-altogether-pleasant dream.

In Between is a record of tremendous musical imagination. If it were on a larger record label (its formal rigor and discipline would fit in just fine on ECM, as would its package's fine graphic design), it would, I think, make quite a splash. If its beauty is at times unnerving, it is always unique. Highly recommended.

Track Listing: 1. What a Wonderful World 2. Drinking Songs 3. Chance Meeting 4. Tea at High Noon 5. In Between 6. The Three Lauras 7. So Long

Personnel: Geoff Young: guitars; Jim Vivian: bass; Barry Romberg: drums

Record Label: Romhog Records

Style: Modern Jazz


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