The State of The Piano Trio 2010 (Pt.1): Helge Lien Trio and Trichotomy
The piano trio is a durable and fertile format for musical expression. It is the jazz equivalent of classical chamber musicthat is, music produced by a small number of instruments, small enough to be accommodated in close confines. While the piano trio can come in many flavors, the typical one is piano, bass and drums (aka the "rhythm section" in larger lineups).
If the piano trio format has an imagination, it has been ruled by Bill Evans since he recorded The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings (Riverside) in the summer of 1961. Evans "freed" the trio format from the blues, turning up the amplitude on ballad-based impressionism. The trio has been freed further by the likes of Brad Mehldau, Esbjorn Svensson and the trios of Bill Carrothers and Marc Copland through the incorporation of more original material, signalling a break from a reliance on standards.
The Helge Lien Trio and Trichotomy signal more trio evolution, an evolution that manifests as the shifting dynamics of space, in the sense of pianist Ahmad Jamal and trumpeter Miles Davis, and time, in the sense of pianist Dave Brubeck on acid. This is the new frontier, crafted on the most versatile jazz combo format.
Helge Lien Trio
The Scandinavian counties, in particular Norway, have produced a wealth of exceptional jazz musicians and ensembles, saxophonist Jan Garbarek being the first among scores of others. Something about that cool climate tempers the music in such a way to increase the clarity of composition and performance to near presbyoptic levels. Space and time play a big part in this music and the image it adopts. A case in point is the Helge Lien Trio's Hello Troll. This is rarefied trio music vastly extending the language created by Evans, creating a brightly defined tonal vision.
The opening "Gamut Warning" is built around an off-time bass figure, a kind of anti- A Love Supreme (Impulse!, 1965) "Acknowledgement" bass-line that is more Job than Isaiah. Lien experiments with string damping effects and spacial arrangements of notes and chords to effect openness and area. Far from hypnotic with the mantra bass-line, "Gamut Warning" provides ample solo space, helping reveal complex and satisfying solo lines of thinking. "Axis Of Free Will" reflects the crescendo introduction of Pete Townsend's "Pinball Wizard," creating a dramatic tautness to the piece that is maintained by Lien's anxious right hand percussively defining the song's direction. Even within the single-note solo does Lien support this taut anxiousness. Empathetically, the band rises and falls at the lead provided by Lien, with his booming bass notes and high register trills. The effect is immediately visceral and urgent. It also is a well integrated piece that readily displays its internal structure well.
"It Is What It Is, But It Is" is a beautifully rendered elegy, possessing the greatest integration on the recording. It is not specifically churchy as often such pieces derive from gospel music. Instead, it is universal with mild dissonances and gentle consonances. Lien's sonic relationship with bassist Berg is complete, carefully captured and presented where each instrument is most uniquely separate, yet perfectly miscible. Berg's solo is densely melodic and evenly rendered. Juxtaposed against "It Is What It Is, But It Is" is "Halla Troll," which possesses equal integrity with the former piece, but is presented in a well-conceived yet chaotic fashion. Drummer Knut Aaleflaet, whose contributions to the trio cannot be overstated, presents his most creative drumming of the disc in the swirling introduction. His tom-tom work is impressive. The entire piece has a Prokofiev feel to it, loud, banging chords, abrupt percussion and a uniquely defiant personality. Think The Love of Three Oranges.
Hello Troll is clean and wide-open trio art. It uses space and time in the creation of velocity, creativity in situ and the moment. Lien is an inquisitive composer searching for new ways to expand the trio repertoire without revisiting often traveled paths. This music is new territory in refined and well considered composition and performance.
Visit Helge Lien Trio on the web.
Where Helge Lien's Hello Troll illustrated the use of space and time in music on Hello Troll, Trichotomy, on Variations, adds the element of mass to the equation, turning velocity into momentum. Trichotomy is an Australian trio and Variations is its first international release. Made up of pianist Sean Foran, bassist Pat Marchisella and drummer John Parker, Trichotomy tests the boundaries of musical inertia with inventive rhythmic and percussive methods.