Peter Frei: Three Trios (2005)
Three Trios is one of those records that just lodges in your musical memory and refuses to leave. These seventy minutes of the most enjoyable and subtle mainstream playing continue to surprise and reveal layers upon layers after each listen.
Peter Frei is new to me, but the bassist has been active on the scene in Switzerland and elsewhere for over thirty years. He even appeared on a Johnny Griffin record in 1978! The notes state that drummer Dominic Egli is the impetus for the very existence of this record. Frei is described as a totally dedicated musician who refuses to sell himself, but rather just plays and teaches, making deep impressions on his students, including Egli.
The record is laid out as three sets of three standards, some more famous than others, done by three different trios. Frei and Egli comprise the rhythm section on each, with Colin Vallon (piano), Michael Zisman (bandoneon), and Rafael Schilt (tenor sax) taking the lead on their respective sets. Musically, Frei and Eglin are models of subtlety, sometimes leading, sometimes following.
The treatment of rhythm and meter is the most noticeable thing. When everyone shifts as a unit, you wonder how it was done. Was there a look, was it rehearsed, was it scored out? The overall feeling, however, is one of spontaneity. The notes talk about the fact that Frei, when deciding whom to choose as the third member of a trio, wanted young players with whom "he has had good experiences... who would be open to the unexpected without neglecting form or structure.
The challenges, however, do not at all feel like a game where Frei, with Egli as his accomplice, throws curve balls to the odd man out, testing his reflexes. Everything is extremely musical, enhancing the exploration of these well-known tunes. Frei wants his partners to be light and nimble, ready for anything, and aware of their surroundings, so they can take an active part in the creative act of improvisation. He is the veteran and despite the fact that he does not dominate the proceedings by volume (he's recorded quite low), he can be felt at the helm every moment, listening, receiving, and giving.
All three soloists respond to the challenge, albeit differently as their instruments allow. Vallon follows every twist and turn, but the ballad shows his taste as a player. Zisman is a virtuoso on the bandoneon, and again the ballad arrangement shows his depth. The Schilt sessions have a sonically empty feel, and his tone is on the dry side. His tunes contain some the quickest rhythm changes with no seeming cue.
These musicians are totally in sync, playing time-tested standards yet saying something new with subtlety and taste.
Track Listing: Spring Is Here; Yesterdays; All The Things You Are; Come Rain Or Come Shine; Dedicated To You; Stella By Starlight; All Or Nothing At All; It Could Happen To You; Alone Together.
Personnel: Peter Frei: bass; Dominic Egli: drums, cymbals; Colin Valon: piano (1-3); Michael Zisman: bandoneon (4-6); Rafael Schilt: tenor saxophone (7-9).