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3x3: Piano Trios: November 2021

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Ayumi Tanaka Trio
Subaqueous Silence
ECM Records
2021

Ayumi Tanaka isn't kidding with this impressionistic title. The music here isn't very far removed from silence, and its ebbing and drifting has just the formlessness you'd expect from life at the bottom of a sea or lake. Pretty sparse and abstract even by ECM Records standards, it's not so much recognizable music as a piece of aural experimental theater.

Simple notes are just one tool among many here; Tanaka almost seems to plonk the piano strings as much as she actually hits keys, and she hits the keys for punctuating splashes of sound as often as she employs melody runs. Small bass plucks and light clatters from the percussion kit are used the same way, all the little bits of sound adding up to an endlessly shifting scape. Sometimes there could be creatures swimming through and darting in and out of the shadows; sometimes they just evoke the random flows and movements of the aquatic environment itself, seemingly aiming for as much restraint as possible. Vague as it is, the amorphous experience never gets any less immersive and vivid throughout.

Olga Konkova Trio
Open Secret
Losen Records
2021

Maybe this particular secret is indeed out there openly, but whatever it is, it still feels like a mystery even once you hear it. Olga Konkova and her trio-mates are equally open and introspective for this hour, collectively gliding from peaceful to borderline-chaotic and touching on some pretty shades in between. Husband Per Mathisen offers some always-supportive upright bass without any need for the dazzling technical stunts he's known for elsewhere, while Gary Husband's splashing and clattering shows all the fluid versatility that's made him a valuable sideman all over the world.

While Open Secret has a few crazy moments, the trio doesn't quite dive toward the nosiy end of the scale. The group remains focused with some groove or catchy line to maintain a little melody amid the chaos. Konkova occasionally uses organ for either a smattering of funk flavor or a tinge of atmospheric dreaminess. The rest of the time, the simple analogue setup is enough to sound playful, moody, evocative or quietly intense, whatever might fit the impulse of the moment. Each one has just enough form and shape for the essential feeling to come through.

Gonzalo Rubalcaba
Skyline
5Passion Records
2021

Even if you don't know Gonzalo Rubalcaba, the rhythm section joining him on this session would be more than enough to catch the eye already. If so, it's important to realize that he's not just coasting on recognition from better-known names (jazz royalty though they are). The Havana-born pianist played quite a few of his own early-career performances alongside Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnette after first settling in Florida in the 1990s, and the romping Skyline is a celebration of his heroes-turned-colleagues as much as a showcase for Rubalcaba's own key-pounding. The leader has enough skill and fluid versatility at the piano to make this session an exciting (even sometimes blistering) summit of equals.

The session draws on past material from all three members with a couple Cuban staples on the side (one playful trio dance, one lovely piano solo), the pieces all treated as a fresh opening for conversation. Carter glides into his own "Gypsy" before it turns into a wild crashing stomp across the piano keys, then eventually coasts to a smooth landing. On "Ahmad the Terrible," Rubalcaba both plays off the rhythmic flair of DeJohnette's piece and the mood-shifting of Ahmad Jamal to make a beautiful swinging homage. From each spontaneous reinvention to a jaunty-yet-slinky closing improv not even intended as a take, the joyful session shows that their mutual admiration is high and their mutual inspiration is even higher.

Tracks and Personnel

Subaqueous Silence

Tracks: Ruins; Black Rain; Ruins II; Ichi; Zephyr; Towards The Sea; Subaqueous Silence.

Personnel: Ayumi Tanaka: piano; Christian Meaas Svendsen: double bass; Per Oddvar Johansen: drums.

Open Secret

Tracks: Hymn for My Brother; Loved Before; All Sorts of Weird and Wonderful; Rest in Motion; Darwin's Point; No Rules; The Man with the Van; Les Hommes des Sables; Open Secret; Grande Capitano; Discovering the Truth; Triste Realidad.

Personnel: Olga Konkova: piano, Fender Rhodes; Per Mathisen: upright bass; Gary Husband: drums.

Skyline

Tracks: Lágrimas Negras; Gypsy; Silver Hollow; Promenade; Novia Mia; A Quiet Place; Ahmad the Terrible; Siempre Maria; RonJackRuba.

Personnel: Gonzalo Rubalcaba: piano; Ron Carter: bass; Jack DeJohnette: drums.

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