Gregg Bendian's Trio Pianissimo: Change (2005)
Building on the deep interaction of Balanceoriginally released in 1998 but recently reissued by TrueMedia JazzWorksChange finds Trio Pianissimo continuing to explore, evolve, and integrate percussionist/composer Gregg Bendian's diverse musical interests. While the piano trio represents Bendian's most intimate setting to date, that doesn't mean that Change operates in conventional terms. It is, in fact, a bold, in-your-face recording that even better meshes disparate elements including free jazz, contemporary classical through-composition, and even a little progressive rock.
Still, that's not to imply that Bendian, pianist Steve Hunt, and bassist John Lockwood aren't capable of profound subtlety. "She Knows, with its unhurried pace and touching grace, has precedence in many of ECM's subtile piano trios, rooted in an impressionistic elegance that recalls Bobo Stenson, John Taylor, and Tord Gustavsen. But equally it possesses a different kind of energy that suggests the wider purview of its interpreters, and a fragile beauty that demonstrates just how diverse Huntnormally found in fusion circlescan be. Bendian layers bell-like tuned percussion over his drum kit on the delicate "Sleep & Dream, a delicately constructed tone poem that moves in and out of time, abstract and recondite yet curiously evocative.
Elsewhere the tone is more outgoing. "Ice Blue begins spacious and indirect, contrasting Bendian's fervent solo drum prelude, "Statement, but ultimately winds its way through a number of 7/4 feels ranging from light swing to more insistent backbeat. Loose yet connected is the operative mode here as Bendian and Lockwood drive underneath Hunt's solo with surprising synchronicity until the seven-minute mark, when Bendian's compositional élan reasserts itself with a passage that brings to mind prog-rockers Emerson, Lake and Palmer, but with considerably more finesse.
The appropriately titled "Knot Grass, with its idiosyncratic theme and staggered time sense, suggests where Thelonious Monk might have gone had he aligned himself with free thinkers like Ornette Coleman. But Hunt's solo, while filled with the abrupt punctuations that typified Monk, is suppler. It's a paradoxical blend also used to great advantage on "Gallop's Gallop a relatively obscure and rarely-recorded Monk tune from the mid-1950s that's the closest Trio Pianissimo gets to the jazz mainstream.
The closing piece, "Torrents, may be the most ambitious. Combining detailed compositional ideas with wild free play, it elicits thoughts of Cecil Taylor, but with broader dynamics and less inherent density. It's the kind of piece that could only work with a trio whose collective resume ranges from involvement in the edgy Left Coast scene to work with intrepid innovators Derek Bailey and Joe Maneri.
At the end of the day what makes Trio Pianissimo's eclectic blend of styles work is its uncanny communal responsiveness. There are times when the improvisational shifts on Change feel defined, but clearly are not. By blurring stylistic boundaries in an open-ended interpretation of finely-honed structures, Bendian, Hunt, and Lockwood have carved a unique space for themselves in a format often associated with a more conventional approachone that's clearly antithetical to Trio Pianissimo's own view.
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Track Listing: Statement; Ice Blue; Prelude; She Knows; Glancing; Knot Grass; Slee & Dream; To Ben Riley; Gallop's Gallop; Torrents.
Personnel: Steve Hunt: piano; John Lockwood: bass; Gregg Bendian: drums.