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Trio ELF: 746

Dan McClenaghan By

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With Trio ELF, Walter Lang takes the traditional piano trio format off on a dance groove tangent. The German pianist works and records prolifically with different piano trios, mostly acoustically, with a Bill Evans-like lyricism, a great respect for the form and an erudite depth to his artistry—which makes the groove-laced 746 a surprise for those not clued in to this direction by the group's debut set, ELF (Enja Records, 2006).

Souping up the piano trio for a more modern sound has become a trend. Several groups are engaged in the endeavor, with varying degrees of success. Ham-fisted to a distracting degree at their worst, long term fans of the acoustic form are advised to check out sound samples before jumping into the widening pool.

The best of them—count Trio ELF in that number—use sound effects judiciously to enhance and texture the trio sound as they delve deeply into synth-like drum 'n' bass grooves. Like Nik Bärtsch's Ronin, Walter Lang, drummer Gerwin Eisenhauer and bassist Sven Faller craft a group sound that maintains an organic element within the tight rhythmic backdrop.

Lang's acoustic Softly As in a Morning Sunrise (Hagel Meyer, 2005) displayed Lang's equality of parts trio work, his beautiful studied lyricism and deft use of touch. With the drum 'n' bass, hip-hop like rhythms on 746 he doesn't abandon that approach, but breaks in and out of the repeated keyboard figures and dance groove momentum to take improvisational flight on the wings of his always lovely approach to melody, with an adroitness born of the depth of his classicism and long experience with the more mainstream piano trio work.

The set's title tune features a machine-precision rhythm as its foundation. Eisenhauer's sets down an implacable, clacking train groove as Lang drops handfuls of delicate piano note flowers on the tracks. "The Machine Man" sounds full of joy, like a happy cyborg dance. "Evet" is the most overtly "modern" of the tunes, with Eisenhauer's drumming sounding like a high-tech mechanism of meshing gears and smooth-rolling bearings behind Lang's repeated rhythmic figures.

"Slam Stew" opens with Lang playing with a delicate music box precision in front of Faller's sludgy bass, and "Arearea" features tinny, echoing approach, with some electric scrapes, from both Lang and Eisenhauer.

Trio Elf's 746 succeeds mightily in modernizing the piano trio sound.

Track Listing: Intro; 746; The Man Machine; Evet; Slam Stew; Arearea; Maydance; Azzurro; Adria; Intermezzo Op 116 (Brahms).

Personnel: Walter Lang: piano, electronics; Gerwin Eisenhauer: drums, electronics; Sven Fuller: bass, electronics.

Title: 746 | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Enja Records

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