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3x3: Piano Trios: February 2021

Geno Thackara By

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It's a European batch of trios for this month, showing all kinds of local roots and with a fascinating knack for subverting expectations.

Fergus McCreadie
Cairn
Edition Records
2021

Scotland's tourist organization could do a lot worse than hire Fergus McCreadie for a little PR. The Jamestown-born pianist offers a completely irresistible sonic picture of his country on his second recording, full of natural beauty and delightful as the first day of summer. Amorphous jazz and Scottish folk are the primary ingredients, as on his debut Turas (Self produced, 2018), though his style is a radiant blend that goes far beyond its parts. This trio sounds like they're dancing and laughing as much as merely playing.

From the floating opener as delicate as mist, each piece of Cairn has a theme that's clear from the title and even more vivid in execution. "Across Flatlands" romps with gleeful abandon; "Tide" goes from quiet rolling to splashing riot and back, while "Jig" and "Tree Climbing" unselfconsciously revel in skipping and running at blistering speed for the sheer joy of it. McCreadie has a magic touch, both at the keys and the writing desk, and the results here create a small world unto itself that's a joy in every moment.

Little North
Finding Seagulls
Self Produced
2021

European landscapes are the central inspiration here as well, albeit a region with a very different expansive feel. Little North evokes the Scandinavian north with a scope that's much more great than the title suggests. This trio's sound is often slow and always stately, suitable for encompassing the subtly grand vistas of ocean and mountains (and yes, seagulls). This is music that doesn't seem to evoke the feel and climate of their native Denmark so much as embody it.

Several pieces are more impressionistic improvisations h than actual songs; "Horses" and "Freyu" (among others) consist of meandering ebbs and swells as the players feel out the motifs together. In spots such as "The Kite" where they build more tangible grooves, the rhythmic coasting is still patient and eloquent; in the brasher and more intense moments, the interplay skillfully brings out whatever drama is built into the pieces already.

As evocative as the compositions are, it's Little North's finely attuned organic dialogue that brings it all to life. The rhythmic patterns aren't always obvious, and the sense of melody is often subtle rather than catchy (though it's always in there somewhere), but the close familiarity among these three makes the shifts and turns beautifully natural. Finding Seagulls is one big mood painting whose surface only hints at its depths.

Geir Åge Johnsen/Fredrik Sahlander/Bernt Moen
Second Time's the Charm
Losen Records
2020

Their first time was already a charming one for this Norwegian trio, so Second Time's the Charm shouldn't be taken as any kind of dismissive comment on its predecessor. This one is more like another charm in a string which shows every sign of picking up more soon enough. Like their debut, this session finds the three continually pushing and pulling at rhythms and song structures, happily challenging each other and finding skewed, fun angles on their material in the process. While Bernt Moen's piano flirts with atonality and the rhythm players' grooving is of an off-kilter kind, nothing here becomes angular or even tricky to follow.

The goal seems to be to bend each song's shape but stop short of unrecognizability: "Bemsha Swing" rumbles and tumbles in a way distinct from Thelonious Monk's while keeping a germ of his quirkiness; they bend the harmonics of "Autumn Leaves" to trade its usual romanticism for an unsettling hint of film noir, then render John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" with restrained flailing in 7/8. Moen's originals are likewise simply sketched in conception and then richly shaded in execution—the fun lies in how they collectively bend everything in unexpected ways.

Tracks and Personnel

Cairn

Tracks: North; Cairn; Across Flatlands; The Stones of Brodgar; Jig; Tide; Tree Climbing; An Old Friend; Cliffside.

Personnel: Fergus McCreadie: piano; David Bowden: double bass; Stephen Henderson: drums.

Finding Seagulls

Tracks: Two & Three; Ode til Skyer; The Kite; And Daughter; Horses; Enora; Anna; Freyu; Invoke; Cold Hawaii; The Kite -Reprise.

Personnel: Benjamin Nørhol Jacobsen: piano; Lasse Jacobsen: bass; Martin Brunbjerg Rasmussen: drums.

Second Time's the Charm

Tracks: The Intro; Solar; A Foggy Day; Bemsha Swing; The Scenes; Autumn Leaves; Giant Steps; The Ballad.

Personnel: Geir Åge Johnsen: drums; Fredrik Salander: bass; Bernt Moen: piano.

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