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Max Johnson Trio: The Invisible Trio (2014)

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Max Johnson Trio: The Invisible Trio How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

The musical lineage within the small circle of bassist Max Johnson's trio is unquestionably among the finest in cutting-edge jazz. The leader has played with bassist William Parker
William Parker
William Parker
b.1952
bass, acoustic
, alto legend Anthony Braxton
Anthony Braxton
Anthony Braxton
b.1945
reeds
, trombonist Steve Swell
Steve Swell
Steve Swell
b.1954
trombone
and drummer Tyshawn Sorey
Tyshawn Sorey
Tyshawn Sorey
b.1980
drums
. In the case of Johnson's current trio, his drummer, Ziv Ravitz
Ziv Ravitz
Ziv Ravitz

drums
, is also a member of the Lee Konitz
Lee Konitz
Lee Konitz
b.1927
sax, alto
Quartet and has performed with Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
b.1952
saxophone
, Tomasz Stanko
Tomasz Stanko
Tomasz Stanko
b.1942
trumpet
, Aaron Parks
Aaron Parks
Aaron Parks
b.1983
piano
and many others. Kirk Knuffke
Kirk Knuffke
Kirk Knuffke

trumpet
ranks as an equal to Rob Mazurek
Rob Mazurek
Rob Mazurek
b.1965
cornet
and Taylor Ho Bynum
Taylor Ho Bynum
Taylor Ho Bynum
b.1975
cornet
as one of the top cornet players in jazz. On The Invisible Trio—the second outing for the trio—Johnson's work projects excitement but without dictating an attitude; it is both intellectual and melodic.

The energy here is a culmination of different—and occasionally opposing—forces that Johnson pulls together at seemly random points. The spontaneity of the trio and the individual contributions of the players create layers of texture and consequently the impression of each relatively compact piece being longer in duration. Opening The Invisible Trio is "The Pretzel," a piece that feels straight-ahead until the trio makes short work of traditional expectations and a slightly off-kilter approach morphs into several distinctive lines of attack. "Bizza" is equally resistant to categorization as the slow bluesy cornet and bass line transform into a unique amalgam of west coast cool and free form improvisation.

"Held for Questioning" take the inventiveness to another level with each trio member employing the whole-brain to pursue their own respective paths while remaining aware of the surrounding musical environment. This is especially evident in the responsiveness between bowed bass and cornet which seems to come out of nowhere and dissipates quickly. Just as the piece finally comes together a subtle middle-eastern flavor emerges from below the surface. Ravitz opens the play-on-words "Don Wrinkles" with a great high energy solo before giving way to the blistering intervention of Knuffke. The relatively short but beautiful title track features Knuffke eerily floating in at the start with Johnson and Ravitz initially keeping their distance. In unison the trio takes the piece up to a spiritual-like treatment and adds yet another creative aspect to The Invisible Trio.

The music of Johnson's trio has been described as experimental, avant-garde, free and it is all the above as it shifts like a hologram from one form to another occasionally interjecting some straight-ahead elements. There is a notable diversity of styles here from the hard-edged "Moving Vehicle" to the relative tranquility of "Pair of Glasses" to the raucous improvisation of "The Golem" but at the common core of The Invisible Trio is great group improvisations punctuated by terrific solos from each of the members. The paradox of this radiant, improvised set is that as the individual improvisations become more intricate they also become more integrated and, as a whole, organic.

Track Listing: The Pretzel; Bizza; Held for Questioning; Don Wrinkles; The Invisible Trio; Moving Vehicle; A Pair of Glasses; The Golem.

Personnel: Kirk Knuffke: cornet; Max Johnson: bass; Ziv Ravitz: drums

Record Label: Fresh Sound New Talent

Style: Free Improv/Avant-Garde


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