The Washington, DC based Anansi Trio create a lot of varying sounds with a deceptively simple lineup of reeds, bass and percussion. Their first album, On The Path (Anansi Trio, 2018), established their approach of mixing jazz and world rhythms based around the intricate sound of Mark Merella's combination trap drum and conga setup. This second CD continues to build on their unique combination of exotic and funky rhythms but tries out a few new wrinkles as well.
Their version of Joe Henderson's composition "Gazelle" adds electric piano played by Ned Judy which gives a sleek jazz-fusion cast to the background supporting Matt Belzer's rolling alto sax. Elsewhere the core trio brings in other instruments. Merella plays timbales and bongos in addition to his regular assortment of drums on "Of My Choosing," putting a real Latino party beat underneath Belzer's dancing alto and Larry Melton's strutting bass.
Belzer adds clarinets and flutes to his arsenal on other selections. On "Sympathetic Vibrations" a chorus of multi-tracked flutes and clarinets back his soprano sax wanders over a bass-heavy African funk groove. He floats over the undulating rhythm of "Doom" on intertwining bass clarinet and alto. Classical elements appear on "Calling" and "Mystery Guest." On the first, clarinet pushes along a formal melody over repeating bata drum patterns and a chorus of reeds. On the second, soprano sax peeks in and out of an insistent funky groove while a curtain of reeds sympathetically pulses like in a Philip Glass composition.
It is not all new experiments. There are also tracks where the trio is still content to just push and bounce an intricate groove along without added effects. That is heard on the loping alto sighs of "I, Chihuahua," the deep spiritual crying of John Coltrane's "Liberia," the wriggling swagger of Arthur Blythe's "Lenox Avenue Breakdown" and a version of another Joe Henderson classic, "Inner Urge," that is powered by the go-go swing rhythms native to the Washington, DC area.
All three members of the Anansi Trio are crucial to the group's overall success. Matt Belzer's sax playing is always free-wheeling and playful, Larry Melton's bass is flexible and deep and Mark Merella makes the roll and bounce of his unusual percussion setup sound like the most natural rhythmic progression in the world. Together they continue to be a unique and stimulating presence in the jazz world that deserves more attention.
I, Chihuahua; Gazelle; Doom; Lenox Avenue Breakdown; Calling; Liberia; Inner Urge; Of My Choosing;
Sympathetic Vibrations; Mystery Guest.
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