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3x3: Piano Trios: October 2021


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It's a pretty worldly mix of trios here. While the instrumental setup is familiar as ever, these are players always happy to take it out of jazz land and wander anywhere else they wish.

Jim Funnell's Word Out!
Live in Japan
Self Produced

While Jim Funnell isn't notably prolific, he makes a convincing case for quality over quantity. A lot of living goes into making each of his works -besides absorbing ideas from travels all around the globe, he's just as likely to take cues from the worlds of literature or visual arts. Of course evoking those feelings and ideas through music is an inexact art, which of course is just the point. These pieces are meant to reflect emotions or impressions, which anyone can read into without needing to know the particular story behind each one.

This is the thinking behind Word Out!, which takes its name from Rainer Maria Rilke's observation that "most experiences are unsayable." Even so, it's a heck of a lot of fun when they can be played instead. There was certainly a lot of energy zinging through the room during the two 2016 club shows that make up Live in Japan. Funnell's wonky opener roils like a McCoy Tyner piece crossed with some weird angularity worthy of Thelonious Monk, followed by a pretty and peaceful meditation, followed by a bebop jam that cooks at a hyper-frisky pace.

It's sort of a whirlwind summary of Word Out!'s history, being mostly drawn from its two previous albums, but more importantly an ongoing tour through Funnell's own globe-spanning interests. The club-jazz structures of some pieces are balanced out with touches of electric fusion or the Eastern grooving that underpins the pianist's more rhythmically-focused duo AfuriKo. The piano gets its fair share of pounding (the mid-set "Detuned Thing" being the most noisily bonkers moment in a set with plenty of bouncing off the walls), while there's just enough breathing space to keep things from getting overwhelming. If these releases take a while to develop, they're also substantial enough to last until the next ones come along.

Christian Jormin Trio
See the Unseen
Losen Records

Evoking the indescribable is also the theme for the Christian Jormin Trio, though their results are much more amorphous. This is a work that always feels strange and still a little familiar. Since See the Unseen was made in the middle of 2020's pandemic shutdowns, there was a certain nervous excitement from their playing together for the first time in months, as well as the strangeness and uncertainty that was lingering everywhere in the circumstances. Still, with their close history and rapport, the trio makes sure the appealing mystery overcomes any uncertainty.

Jormin's pieces are more impressionistic than structured, giving everyone space to drift and coast together, and even repeating patterns always feel like they're changing. The aural tones can shift in much the same way, from earthy toms to cymbal splashes or plucked bass to smooth arco bowing. A couple dips into straightforward groove offer just enough sunshine to offset the trickier drifts. Whatever world they're offering a glimpse of, it's hard to describe but always graceful and beautiful.

Junichiro Mataga

If the recording's general background is simple—glimpses into the life of a working player—the result can't help but be a colorful one, if only because modern jazz is the medium and the player is based in New York City. Junichiro Mataga sharp and adaptable enough to last as a freelancer in that hottest of musical melting pots, and his Sketches reflect all different shades of the experience in a tidy yet rollicking package.

Fittingly enough for a debut, Mataga borrows a couple classic jazz tunes and otherwise strikes out on his own. He and the rhythm section include a pretty breather or two, especially the meditative highlight "Light and the Darkness," but most often prefer to bounce and roll and just plain have fun. The frisky interplay should keep jazz-loving ears happy, while there are several catchy hooks in the tracklist for all other kinds of ears to follow. If it's familiar stuff, it's no less genuine for that.

Tracks and Personnel

Live in Japan

Tracks: Spirit of the Snail; Ian's Bonsai; Swedish Clogs; Such a Sweet Dawdle; Song for Us; What Is This (Detuned) Thing; Ordinary Effect; Ikigai; Fuji; House of Granate.

Personnel: Jim Funnell: piano; Ryoichi Zakota: bass; Ryo Noritake: drums; Akiko Horii: percussion (8); Hiroshi Fukutomi: guitar (9).

See the Unseen

Tracks: Mola Mola; See the Unseen; Io; Sibilance; Lätta, Sväva, Inåt; Swan of Snow; Pantanal; Oceanos; Omsorg; In a Distance.

Personnel: Christian Jormin: piano; Magnus Bergström: double bass; Adam Ross: drums.


Tracks: Midnight Shore; C.C.T.; Cave; I Mean You; Little Cheers; Scramble Crossing; Light and the Darkness; Time to Work; Loop; Total Praise.

Personnel: Junichiro Mataga: piano; Yoshiki Yamada: bass; Yosuke Nagayama: drums.

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