Nels Cline/Andrea Parkins/Tom Rainey: Out Trios Volume Three: Ash and Tabula (2004)
People can be easily frightened away from music classified as free improvisation or, as some prefer it, spontaneous composition. Without a specific harmonic or rhythmic centre, things can be just too abstract, too oblique. And all too often this kind of record has a certain uniformity of intent that makes for a monotonous experience. But by opening the mind to the possibility of stretching the boundaries of conventional instruments, and listening to the music as much with the eyes as the ears, the kind of music that Cline, Parkins and Rainey make can be highly evocative. And whereas some trios work within restricted confines of ambience and timbre, this one creates a wide breadth of sound and style, concept and texture.
"Ruination" starts things off on an anarchistic note, with Parkins and Cline pulling ever-increasing layers of noise from their instruments while Rainey, one of the most capable listeners in free jazz today, feeds off their chaos, building the intensity to an almost ear-shattering level. "Lower Story" builds on the chaos, with Cline's effects-laden guitar and Parkins' dark organ held together loosely by Rainey's sometimes metronomic, other times highly irregular rhythms.
In contrast to these edgier pieces, "Alleys of North America," which begins with Parkins' abstract piano and Cline's chordal swells, is a more spacious piece that conjures images of dark and dangerous corners. "Poem in an Ashtray" straddles the line between mysterious introspection and more direct expressionism.
But what distinguishes this from some free recordings is the chemistry that Cline, Parkins and Rainey clearly share. Even at its most obscure, there's a sense that the players are working off rather than against each other. Rainey, in particular, demonstrates the kind of intuitive inner logic that has made him so essential to the music of Tim Berne over the past eight years. And while he works with a more strictly organic instrument, avoiding all use of effects and electronics, he manages to squeeze out sounds that are surprisingly diverse.
Ash and Tabula is a daring recording, proving that three like-minded artists can create, from the humblest beginnings, a rich and unlikely record that, while clearly challenging, has much to offer the intrepid listener.
Track Listing: Ruination; Lower Story; Alleys of North America; Poem in an Ashtry; Pearly Turbo; Raptor; Problem Child
Personnel: Nels Cline (guitar, effects), Andrea Parkins (accordion, effects, piano, electric keyboards), Tom Rainey (drums)
Record Label: Atavistic Worldwide
Style: Modern Jazz