Thoth Trio: Apropos of Nothing (2004)
The name Thoth Trio comes from two sources: one, the names of the musicians (drummer David Throckmorton, reed player Ben Opie and bassist Paul Thompson); the other, the name of an Egyptian deity who was a patron of the arts, education and honesty. Apropos of Nothing is the first release by this Pittsburgh-based trio, which the press release claims is avant-gardebut with a clear structural basis for these ten original compositions, they may be adventurous, but they clearly lean a little more towards the centre than many other reed-based trios.
Mind you, the compositions are really only loose sketches to give their explorations some reference points. While pieces like "Theme from Blue Four" may start with completely free solos, in this case from Thompson, they ultimately shift gears into pieces with clearly defined rhythms. And while the lack of a chordal instrument allows greater harmonic flexibility, one of the strengths of Thoth Trio is its ability to imply changes where they are only loosely imagined.
Opie, a veteran of the Pittsburgh independent music scene, is a strong player with precedence in Ornette Coleman and, to some extent, Eric Dolphy. As a member of Watershed, and leading his twelve-piece ensemble OPEK, he has explored the music of Sun Ra, and some of Ra's sense of the absurd finds its way into his playing, but Opie tends to more discernable thematic constructs, both as a writer and improviser. Thompson has a firm sound and manages to maintain groove while, at the same time, providing a somewhat shifting foundation for Opie to navigate. Surprisingly, Thompson and Throckmorton were the rhythm section for Maynard Ferguson's Big Band, and Thompson acted as the group's musical director in the latter part of the '90s. The rapport they share was, no doubt, developed in their work with Ferguson, but in the context of Thoth Trio they are, of course, far more elastic. The sign of the complete musician is the ability to be committed and authentic in whatever context he/she finds him/herself in, and Thompson and Throckmorton clearly have the breadth to handle the more exploratory nature of this trio.
While the compositions, most by Opie with two by Thompson, provide form, they are transformed in the hands of Throckmorton, Opie and Thompson into investigations of rhythmic and melodic possibilities that extend beyond simple construct into the realm of pure transition. At times they swing hard, as on "Opie's Dream," at others looking into the darker corners of "Look and Reflect."
With a strong thematic sensibility and free improvisation that still uses discrete rhythm and harmonic centres as a focus, Apropos of Nothing is an auspicious début from a trio that understands that in order to be completely free, one must first understand structure and definition, and that the contrast can best be seen when both are in evidence.
Visit Thoth Trio on the web.
Track Listing: Two; Ammonium; Theme from Blue Four; Apropos of Nothing; Look and Reflect; Opie's Dream; Pothole; Bounce; NJ; Say What You Mean
Personnel: David Throckmorton (drums), Paul Thompson (bass), Ben Opie (reeds)