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Multiple Reviews

5x3: Piano Trios: September 2019


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Well, some months are packed too full of these goodies to cover in batches of three. We can only hang on and try to keep up.

Aki Rissanen
Art in Motion
Edition Records

Past, present and future don't collide but smash together in one happy jumble through this trio's splendid third outing. The stately refinement of European classical and folk music, the mantric minimalism of Nik Bärtsch and the modern jazz-meets-electronica strain of the Esbjorn Svensson Trio are all squeezed in here somewhere. Aki Rissanen and his trio-mates treat them as equally fascinating and endlessly malleable, making them all groove in catchy yet oblique ways.

Rissanen's restless lines make Monkian melodies and almost-mathematical complexity both sound effortless, all while keeping a subtle trance with the help of an exceptionally well-tuned rhythm section in Antti Lotjonen and Teppo Mäkynen. The opener alone presents a rollercoaster across the keys in two-hand counterpoint twisty enough to make the likes of Bärtsch stop in their tracks. Rhythms and timing are a continually fiendish game, as in the angular patterns of Rissanen's bafflingly obtuse "Love Song" or Mäkynen's jagged grooving (see his rolling solo for the well-titled "Seemingly Radical").

At the same time, the crazy games don't interfere with their occasional willingness to prettify the melodies or trail off into the ether. Even when it leans formless, Art in Motion takes trouble not to get too off-puttingly abstract, but still offer a fun dancing line or jittery rhythmic underpinning to grab the ear. The recording does indeed stay in constant motion, and the art is a stimulating kind indeed.

Don't Move
Don't Move
Self Produced

Speaking of groups in constant motion, Don't Move consistently defy their name right from the start of their self-titled outing. They kick off with a noirish vamp that circles in place but doesn't repeat quite as precisely as it seems. When Ray Clemens steps up for the first bass solo, he builds it from rhythmic taps and string slaps as much as actual notes. The whole piece grooves in a way that's slinky and moody but not really dark, befitting a band that never wants to sound too straightforward.

The rest of Don't Move only takes further weirdly fun whirls through more strange corners of their imagination. "Bad Wolf" comes out like a funhouse-mirror take on '40s film noir, full of tension and abstract punctuation, like an accompaniment to the action in some gangster film. "Instant Classic" gives another taste of title-contrasting irony as it builds to a sweeping slow-grower ot a finish; "The War Is Over" briefly dabbles in cheerful catchiness with a hook that might even stick in the mind somewhat after the more obtuse pieces have ended. They go for more of a breezy, semi-beachy mood with "Bone in Pocket"—though not without more semi-abstract noises from the double bass—and end with a vamp rooted in soul and gospel. Smooth and comforting or off-the-wall, the trip is always refreshingly unpredictable.

Live at the Jazz Standard
Capri Records

A rewarding partnership is one you don't want to let go, and it's a telling sign that even as they've gotten continually busier and more in-demand, Colin Stranahan, Glenn Zaleski and Rick Rosato still make sure to get together when times allow. Six years after Limitless (Capri, 2013), their collective growth is evident while their egalitarian nature and exploratory spirit haven't changed. Live at Jazz Standard shows some maturity in obvious ways—half its selections are repeated from the trio's previous recordings, rendered more slowly and thoughtfully here—but it's also just as clear in their intuitive sense of timing and breathing space.

Pace and patience are among the eponymous trio's key themes on this set. That's not to say they can't also swing at a brisk clip, as the opener "Forecast" shows in capering style, but they've clearly honed their habit of listening to each other. Check Rosato's simple bass anchor on his piece "Waltz for MD" as the others rhythmically lope and skip around him, or his beautiful co-lead on Zaleski's wistful piano meditation dedicated to his mentor Fred Hersch. It's a beautiful hour immensely benefiting from all those years of past experience and only (hopefully) promising further growth together in the future.

Reality Control Test
Honolulu Records

The name seems like a paradox—how would such a test even be possible, really? Consider that the phrase refers to a technique for lucid dreaming and expanding consciousness, and it begins to make more sense. This trio is interested in not exactly observing or testing reality so much as interpreting it. This session is about examining the world in their own way, through impressionistic sound pictures geared around moods rather than structures. An initial floating reverie serves as an introduction to "Tooth Fairy," a floaty piece as dreamy and childlike as the title suggests. RCT is comfortable with spinning pleasant melodies, meandering without a particular tune, or seamlessly drifting from one to the other any time the fancy takes them.

The pieces tend to meander along their own paths, letting patterns grow in natural and intuitive ways. The piano often paces through repeating loops, letting the variation come from the rhythm players' accompaniment instead. "Into the Void" airily drifts and floats to the close without needing to impose any further form. "Cronos" specifically plays with time, making their rubato tempo-sculpting into the central theme. It's not about the notes or melodies so much as the shapes the players collectively sculpt them into; the nature of their reality is an elusive thing that defies being examined and welcomes being experienced.

Pokaz Trio
Losen Records

The album is named for the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery, and from that theme to the ECM-worthy cover, Kintsugi lives up to its theme of patience and deliberation in thoughtful style. This trio can't seem to decide whether it's a modern outfit with a bent for traditional sounds or vice versa. Their improvisational groove-jazz virtuosity comes with a strong streak of eastern European folk, occasionally topped off with the snappy beats of light electronica. Yalow Taruntsov's crisp snare work crackles with electric distortion in more than one spot. Vitaly Fesenko's double bass is sometimes deep and full-toned enough for modern dub lines, other times bowed with just enough echo to turn the tone ghostly.

The elements combine to make a classy old-world vibe that's still timeless enough to feel at home in the present century. With "Easy" they build a circular pattern much harder than it sounds; "Sphere" drifts higher and higher until it figuratively floats into the clouds, while two variations of the title track (trio and piano solo) offer peace with Zen-like stillness. It's a performance full of mystery and subtle understated wonder.

Tracks and Personnel

Art in Motion

Tracks: Aeropeans; Facts and Fiction; Moro Lasso al Mio Duolo; Das Untemperierte Klavier; Arboreum; Cantus Arcticus, Melancholy; Seemingly Radical; Love Song; Alava Maa.

Personnel: Aki Rissanen: piano; Antti Lötjönen: bass; Teppo Mäkynen: drums.

Don't Move

Tracks: Gusset; Bad Wolf; Dispossessed; The War Is Over; This Man, This Island; Instant Classic; Bone in Pocket; So Much Less Than the Best of Humanity.

Personnel: Eric Warren Ainley: piano; Ray Clemens: bass; Jeff DeRoshia: drums.

Live at the Jazz Standard

Tracks: Forecast; Sullivan Place; Waltz for MD; All the Things You Are; Chorale (For Fred Hersch); On the Road.

Personnel: Colin Stranahan: drums; Glenn Zaleski: piano; Rick Rosato: bass.

Reality Control Test

Tracks: Dark Outside; Tooth Fairy; Boogeyman; Into the Void; Cronos; Hikikomori pt.1; Hikikomori pt.2; Reality Control Test; Kanashibari.

Personnel: Lorenzo Blardone: piano; Marco Rottoli: double bass; Riccardo Chiaberta: drums.


Tracks: Slavonic Dance; Kintsugi; Elephant; Easy; Spark; Sphere; Kintsugi (piano version).

Personnel: Andrew Pokaz: piano; Vitaly Fesenko: double bass; Yalow Taruntsov: drums.

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