Give three imaginative artists a yearlong residency in a performance space, located in a breeding ground for creative music and the results hopefully will turn out to be something like Here Comes The Nice Guy Trio.
Canadian trumpeter Darren Johnston, now living in the Bay area of San Francisco, spent a year making music at the Red Poppy Art House in the Mission District with the aptly named Nice Guy Trio with accordionist Rob Reich and bassist Daniel Fabricant. Their experiments and exploration into music making, documented here, involved a revolving cast of collaborators and musical influences.
Like trumpeter Dave Douglas, Johnston feels no need to be anchored by the heaviness of the jazz canon working with Fred Frith, Joëlle Léandre, Rent Romus, and ROVA. Johnston's projects include United Brassworkers Front that plays everything from Bach to New Orleans marching music, and his own quintet that released the stellar disc The Edge Of The Forrest (Clean Feed, 2008).
Reich's accordion opens the disc with "The Balancing Act," found somewhere in a black & white film about Paris. With Johnston's trumpet swinging back and forth, it becomes clear that the hero will find love, lose love, and in the end walk off into the sunset with his girl. The trio plays music which trods somewhere between the chamber and the cabaret. With guest musicians added, their vision is achieved. Ben Golberg's clarinet, Alex Kelly's cello, and Dina Maccabee's violin augment the trio on "Simple Life," a sweet ballad that is plucked and bowed from naivety to simple beauty. The music is seemingly unadorned in its presentation, yet so intricate in its freedom of expression.
The trio adds tabla player Sameer Gupta on two tracks, "Off The Grid" and "Apples." Gupta's presence adds an urgency that is intercepted by Fabricant's bass and the very nimble playing of Johnston. When the band adds pedal steel guitarist David Phillips to the classic track "Fables For Faubus" the 'whimsy' of Charles Mingus' segregation is furthered by the theremin-like sound of Phillips and the cartoon take of the trio. Johnston's slurs deft, spry notes over the walking notes, that turn into a talking bass.
It isn't until the trio covers Ornette Coleman's "Folk Tale" that their mission in finally revealed. Like Coleman's music circa 1959-1961, the band makes the simple complex, and the impenetrable accessible. Extended techniques are palatable and pleasing and all things are right in the world.
The Balancing Act; Apples; Simple Life; Fables For Faubus; Woeful; See Ya; Folk Tale;
Unicycle Cocek; Amy's Day; Off The Grid; Ducci Calypso.
Darren Johnston: trumpet; Rob Reich: accordion; Daniel Fabricant: bass; Sameer Gupta:
tablas (2, 10); Ben Goldberg: clarinet (3, 6); Alex Kelly: cello (3); Dina
Maccabee: violin (3); David Phillips: pedal steel guitar (4, 9); Aaron Keirbal:
dumbek, assorted drums (8).