In recent years, as ever-increasing numbers of piano-bass-drums trios have appeared on the scene and released their debut albums, it has become a truism that any such group needs to have its own unique selling point to distinguish it from the crowd. It is no longer enough to write or cover good songs and to play them wellthat is not guaranteed to separate a new group from the rest, nor is adopting and adapting elements of already successful piano trios. Favourite trios to copy (or steal from) are, in no particular order, The Bad Plus, The Necks and e.s.t.each of which has been instrumental in reinventing and revitalising the genre. As with those trios, it is important that any new arrival should be instantly recognisable after a few bars. All of which bring us neatly to the young Norwegian trio Splashgirl.
On their previous three-and-a-half albums (their last LP was split with label mates and countrymen Huntsville, hence the half) Splashgirl have evolved their own sound which is unlike that of any other piano trio. Their music is characterised by its restraint and lack of extended solos or pyrotechnics; slowly-evolving repetitions establish mesmerising grooves, with the occasional addition of guest musicians bringing variety. Throughout, Andreas Stensland Løwe's piano chords are the dominant sound, with Jo Berger Myhre on bass and Andreas Lønso Knudsrød on drums ever present as equal partners. Although the trio have repeatedly demonstrated their abilities as improvisers, as a group they are now far removed from jazz piano trios, often being closer to minimalism or ambient; their music is very easy to listen to, while never risking the dreaded "easy listening" tag.
Their third album, Pressure (Hubro, 2011) was widely hailed as a triumph and now Field Day Rituals builds on and develops its strengths. It was recorded over two weeks at Avast Studio in Seattle, engineered and produced by Randall Dunn, who mixed Pressure and whose other productions include Sunn O))) and Sun City Girls; the arrival of Dunn as producer makes this the first Splashgirl album not to have been produced by the group. Splashgirl say that Dunn inspired them to take a favourable look at jazz again, but the effects of that look are not immediately obvious. In fact, if one were to catalogue the influences on display here, not one of them would be a jazz player.
Dunn's skills as a producer are emphasised by the coherence of the album and the consistency of its sound. This time out, only two guest musicians are usedquite modest compared to past albums. Viola player Eyvind Kangfrequently used on Dunn productionsfeatures on three tracks, being integrated into the overall ensemble sound without being obvious or intrusive. Similarly, Dunn uses Timothy Mason's synth for coloration and emphasis, blending it in perfectly. Both guests augment the basic trio well, without their addition detracting from it. The end result is an album which can make others feel flat and empty by comparison.
Long Story; Field Day Rituals; All The Vowels Missing; Dulcimer; Mass; Never Been Anywhere Before; The Portal; Twixt It and Silence; I Feel Like I Know Her.
Andreas Stensland Løwe: piano and keyboards; Jo Berger Myhre: double bass; Andreas Lønso Knudsrød: drums and percussion; Eyvind Kang: viola; Timothy Mason: modular synth.
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