On the aptly (if unimaginatively) named Trio,
American electric bassist Steve Swallow joins forces with two Danish musicians: sax player Hans Ulrik and drummer Jonas Johansen. At every turn, Swallow demonstrates why he is the premiere electric jazz bassist of the last two decades. When his trademark 5-string finds the groove that makes the trio equal partners, Ulrik and Johansen endeavor to keep up with Swallow's power and inventiveness. They succeed more often than not, resulting in a highly charged straight-ahead session.
Johansen's light touch is apropos and especially evident on two Swallow compositions: "Self Exiting Circuit" and "I Fall Asleep Too Easily." The latter features a melodic bass opener that descends into a sleepy chordal undulation that allows Ulrik to lull with his sax. Swallow takes most of the risks throughout, breathing new life into the classic "After You've Gone" by setting a frantic pace. On Johansen's "The Girl With The Hair (In All Directions)", a predictable melody is dressed up and made interesting by the novel inclusion of a Galician pandeiro
frame drum alongside a contemporary rock-edged bass line. "Exactly Backward" is an appealingly quirky mid-CD respite, featuring a hypnotic drum and bass meld over which Johansen plays a dissonantly sweet line.
Ulrik shows himself a versatile player able to adapt to a rhythm section that is not satisfied to serve simply as a slate on which his sax can write melody and doodle improv. Quite the contrary, drum and bass are high in the mix. They drive Ulrik's sax to sob and cry on the bluesy, though somewhat timeworn sounding "Brother J" and to natural thick honey on "It's Blue." Trio
ends up being more than a forum for Swallow to display his unique talents. It highlights that in the right six hands, power and freshness is still possible in the timeless sax trio format.
This review originally appeared in AllAboutJazz - New York
Personnel: Hans Ulrik: tenor and soprano saxophones; Steve Swallow: electric bass;
Jonas Johansen: drums, pandeiro.