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3x3: Piano Trios: January 2021

Geno Thackara By

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Eivind Austad New Orleans Trio
That Feeling
Losen Records
2020

To cue this one up without knowing anything about it, one would easily think it was an informal session or maybe a late-night club jam among New Orleans natives. It couldn't matter less that the leader is Norwegian (visiting the Crescent City to record with a pair of its residents) or that there are only a couple familiar jazz chestnuts in the half-original set list. Eivind Austad still couldn't sound more at home in this context as player or composer. The feeling of That Feeling is a warm one of quiet celebration, full of soul and the brightest kind of blues.

Austad's own pieces are arguably the key to the album's success; not only does the trio skip and swing through spots such as Ornette Coleman's "Turnaround" with a bluesy spring in its step, but the self-penned likes of "Soul of a Twain" and "Esplanade Drive" have enough gospel and soul to sound all of a piece. Judicious touches of Professor Longhair and Allen Toussaint add some genuine heart without reaching the point of pastiche. The only frustrating moment comes at the end, when the joyful title track bursts into the disc's liveliest jam, then fades out at barely two minutes. After such a fun outing, it's a frustrating yet undeniably effective way to leave us wanting more.

Marie Kruttli Trio
The Kind of Happy One
QFTF
2020

It's true that Marie Kruttli's past work isn't primarily known for brightness and cheer. Still, she's far from mopey either, and her choice of title here doesn't exactly signify a statement or a big departure from the past. The Kind of Happy One builds on its predecessors like the subtly rich Running After the Sun (QFTF, 2017) most beautifully and naturally. There's an unassuming joy among the trio as they trip through her snappy and impressionistic pieces; though it feels closer to the surface here, that quality has really been there in her music all along.

Kruttli doesn't need to bother with song heads or familiar structures, but playfully grooves according to her own kind of postmodern logic. The trio sounds deceptively effortless traipsing through these quirky sets of steps, often locked together with impressive precision. Good luck trying to hum these melodies while going about your day. It's not catchy stick-in-your-head material here, but the sound paintings are nonetheless dynamic while the grooves are never less than compelling. Adventurous yet approachable, this is the product of a player versed in Stravinsky as much as Thelonious Monk, and restless enough to keep spinning all those pieces of history into something fresh.

Immortal Onion
XD -Experience Design
U Know Me
2020

If the title sounds like some Silicon Valley multimedia buzzword phrase, Immortal Onion's second full-length offers an experience that could actually live up to it. On this outing they act less as a piano trio than a sonic virtual-reality crew, gradually sliding from jam-happy groove jazz to flat-out bonkers cyberpunk. Tomir Śpiołek spends a surprising portion of the time on juiced-up synthesizers, while his acoustic piano parts are jagged and jumpy enough to live half in rave territory as well.

Wojtek Warmijak's drums increasingly crackle with electricity to match; while Ziemowit Klimek weaves through the low end with syrupy electric tones, though he also produces the disc's most atmospheric moment with some purely acoustic arco bowing. While there are still faint traces of Esbjorn Svensson or GoGo Penguin in their makeup to serve as reference points, they're almost drowned out by hard-hitting math-prog and glitchtronica. While the later stretch gets increasingly challenging ("Intensity" in particular almost overloads the ears before breaking down into dubstep chaos), most of Experience Design remains accessible and even groovy enough to follow. It all makes a fitting tone for a headlong leap into future: disorienting and still weirdly thrilling.

Tracks and Personnel

That Feeling

Tracks: 724 Blues; Soul of a Twain; Basin Street Blues; Turnaround; Esplanade Drive; Something; What a Friend We Have in Jesus; That Feeling.

Personnel: Eivind Austad: piano; James Singelton: bass; Johnny Vidachovic: drums.

The Kind of Happy One

Tracks: Back to Blue; Buried Giant; Lichthaus; L'Intrepide; Sad Song; The Kind of Happy One; I Hate to Be Taken as a Stupid Person; Poppy Seed.

Personnel: Marie Kruttli: piano; Lukas Traxel: upright bass; Jonathan Barber: drums.

XD -Experience Design

Tracks: Eye Tracking; Triggers; Omnichannel Journeys pt. I; Significance; Omnichannel Journeys pt. II; Interaction; Intensity; IA (Information Architecture).

Personnel: Tomir Śpiołek: grand piano, e-piano, synths; Ziemowit Klimek: Moog, bass guitar, upright bass; Wojtek Warmijak: drums.

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