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Live Archive: Drop Trio


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It's late at night in a strange city, anyone's guess as to what's worth doing and cash is running low. But it's one of those rare occasions when luck strikes, as some promising riffs drift out from some obscure club that turns out to have no cover charge or drink minimum.

Think of this collection as the virtual version of that night on the town.

The Drop Trio is a Houston experimental jazz funk group with an extensive collection of free live downloads, which I discovered essentially by accident while doing some surfing on new ways of paying for music downloads (more on that in a minute). The freebies aren't going to win any sound quality awards, but their blend of old-school funk and contemporary twists are the sort of thing that—in the real world—get out-of-town drifters checking calendars for performances occurring during future visits.

The band's live downloads archive contains 12 MP3 songs totaling 80 minutes in length and about 100MB in size. There are also four full-length performances and radio appearances meant to be played over a streaming connection. Although a savvy surfer can download the full-length performances without too much difficulty, this review focuses on the designated downloads. The band permits taping of its shows, by the way, with at least one posted at the Live Music Archive and others probably all over the 'Net.

A good starting point on the band's page is the two versions of "Melody Melody," featuring an enormously catchy and accessible hook that evolve into jam sessions lasting more than ten minutes apiece. My know-zero-about-the-band guess is this is one of their reliable crowd-pleases. Ian Varley works his Hammond organ rapidly through a set of retro riffs on the shorter version that can only be described as extremely tasty, without traces of acid or other agents that might churn the listeners' tastes. Bassist Patrick Flanagan leaves his bass vamp behind for a brief bit of low-key harmonically inclined soloing and drummer Nuje Blattel's moment in the sun is lively if not exactly uncharted territory. On the longer version Varley teases in an almost childlike fashion at times—bringing in a Rhodes as a playmate—as the rhythm shifts tempo and density around him. Flanagan swings from the Mingus to MMW eras in both traditional and slap pickings, while Blattel handles the multiple changes tastefully if a bit abruptly.

Things get more experimental elsewhere, with Varley dotting various compositions and jams with all sorts of beeps and bips. But two things make these performances easier on the ears than a number of jam bands: 1) the framework of the songs generally stays in some sort of recognizable funk pattern even as they shift pace with regularity and 2) the trio is working in unison instead of coexisting in whatever individual soundscapes overly indulgent players decide to occupy.

The band has two albums, Leap , released in October of 2004, and Big Dipper , a 2003 release. The latter is available as a download in a Windows-only format known as Weed, where songs can be downloaded free and played three times before purchase (an e-mail letting me know about the format is how I came across the band's name). I can't vouch for the album or Weed—as a Mac user it's possible in theory to obtain and play the files, but it's more trouble than simply ordering through conventional means. Sound previews, however, indicate the trio doesn't dial things back much in the studio, so those appreciate of the freebies will hopefully encourage the group to continue its generosity with a little financial support.

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