Trio M: The Guest House (2011)
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Historically, the most revered jazz piano trios tend to erase the distinction between leader and accompanist; empathetic listening skills and quicksilver responsiveness enable adroit performers to spontaneously shape the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic contours of the music in democratic fashion. The esteemed Trio M, whose personnel boasts pianist Myra Melford, bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Matt Wilson, is one such collective. Though Melford's return to the classic acoustic trio format that established her reputation in the early 1990s is notable, Trio M is a true cooperative; the leaderless group uniformly divides composing and improvising duties.
What makes this trio of equals unique is its ability to integrate disparate forms with a singularly organic sensibility. Unbound by notions of genre or style, Trio M's sophomore effort, The Guest House, expands on its stellar 2006 debut, Big Picture (Cryptogramophone), encapsulating myriad moods that range from atmospheric impressionism to abstract expressionism. While the basic elements are familiar (earthy blues, free jazz deconstructions, neo-classical frameworks), the quixotic logic that connects them is far more arcane.
As adherents of Dresser's "Telematic" improvising concept, Melford and Dresser have developed a virtually telepathic rapport in recent years, yet Wilson's keen contributions are no less clairvoyant. The drummer's infectious energy elevates the bandstand, whether galloping through the jaunty bop of his beguiling homage "Don Knotts" or sauntering behind the beat of Dresser's languid, but deceptively complex swinger, "Kind of Nine." Melford's intrepid virtuosity is consistently breathtaking, whether lilting through the euphonious changes of the Zimbabwean-themed "Ekoneni" or navigating the angular intervals of "The Promised Land" with atonal abandon. Dresser's contributions are equally revelatory; his extended bowing technique repeatedly transcends conventional tonality with a scintillating display of coruscating harmonics.
Unfettered diversity is the Trio's key attribute, and although the threesome's vigorous exchanges are immediately appealing, it's only one facet of their talents. Encompassing a full range of dynamics, the bluesy title track is both accessible and challenging, suddenly shifting from celebratory fanfare to somber dirge at the coda. Wilson's "Hope (for the Cause)," dedicated to the cancer relief organization Relay for Life, is the date's most lyrical ballad, ebbing with pellucid piano ruminations, doleful arco glissandi and atmospheric cymbal washes. The episodic "Tele Mojo" embodies the best of both worlds, gradually modulating from harmonious aleatoric discourse to an expansively rhapsodic excursion that dramatically builds to a bristling free-form climax.
The Guest House offers an impressive overview of Trio M's capabilities, from the introspective musings of Melford's Rumi poetry-inspired "Even Birds Have Homes (to return to)" to the gospelized fervor of Wilson's rousing Albert Ayler tribute, "Al." Liberally informed by past traditions and bolstered by spirited interplay, Melford, Dresser and Wilson's thrillingly unpredictable performances update the venerable piano trio tradition with bold invention.
Track Listing: The Guest House; Don Knotts; Kind Of Nine; Sat Nam; Hope (for the Cause); The Promised Land; Tele Mojo; Al; Even Birds Have Homes (to return to); Ekoneni.
Personnel: Myra Melford: piano; Mark Dresser: bass; Matt Wilson: drums.
Record Label: Enja Records