The German ACT Music label is a strange one. Fitfully brilliantas with the Esbjorn Svensson Trio's ongoing canon, and with recent discs by Nguyen Le
and Julia Hulsmann
it has also released numerous bland, MOR-pitched albums which have precious little to do with creative jazz. Many of these have been produced by the slick but featherweight trombonist, vocalist and arranger Nils Landgren. Significantly, the EST, Le and Hulsmann albums were all self-produced by the artists.
Label director Siegfried Loch would probably reply that the dross finances the more innovative artist-led projects. If so, I guess we should be grateful, for when he and ACT get it right, they really get it right. With the Alboran Trio's debut album, Meltemi, the label has struck European piano trio gold againand with something very different from EST. Dark Scandinavian nights are out; bright Mediterranean days are in. The album, which was collectively produced by the trio, is infused throughout with warm sunlight and the smell of orange groves, mint tea and kif.
The Alboran Trio takes its name from the narrow stretch of water which connects Europe and Africa around the Straits of Gibraltar, long a conduit of cultural exchange. Pianist and composer Paolo Paliaga, who formed the group with fellow Italians Dino Contenti (bass) and Gigi Biolcati (drums) in '03, consciously set out to draw on musical traditions from all around the Mediterranean.
Meltemi has one foot in the Bill Evans piano trio lineage, the other dancing nimbly between Latin, Maghrebi and Balkan influences. The music rarely breaks into clearly delineated multiculturalismit's more subtle and elliptical than thatbut it's shot through with fragments and suggestions of Mediterranean harmonies and rhythms.
Paliaga's tunes are sunny and often very pretty, but the trio is really more about collective improvisation. Piano and bass are equal partners in the front line, and Contenti's rich, singing and slyly dissonant lines dominate some of the most compelling passages. Biolcati approaches the drums rather like a young Paul Motian, rarely breaking into straight timekeeping, instead preferring to colour and texture the collective momentum. All three players are lyrical, quirky and rhythmically engaged.
The Alboran Trio may just be too complex and sophisticated to score as big a commercial success as EST, but it's a fresh presence in piano trio music.
Personnel: Paolo Paliaga: piano; Dino Contenti: double bass; Gigi Biolcati: drums.