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Scorch Trio: Melaza

John Kelman By

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Human nature may tend towards resisting change, but shaking up a group—even one with a longstanding and successful lineup—can sometimes drive the music in subtly different directions. Losing Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love may have seemed like a blow change for Scorch Trio, but recruiting Frank Rosaly—who moves around in the same circles as Nilssen-Love, playing with fellow Chicagoan modernists like saxophonist Dave Rempis and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm—turns out to be the perfect move for this decade-old improvising power trio. Melaza is a logical successor to Luggumt (Rune Grammofon, 2004) and Brolt! (Rune Grammofon, 2008), but Rosaly's approach to color and groove makes it something a little different, as well.

Rosaly is undeniably capable of high octane power on aggressive outpourings like "Bambalán," wailing with reckless abandon, while Norwegian Ingebrigt Håker Flaten's frenetic bass and expat Finnish guitarist Raoul Bjorkenheim's stuttering but electrically charged guitar build to a degree of jarring intensity. Still, equally, there's something less inherently dense about Rosaly; despite its largely in-your-face nature, Melaza feels, somehow, more intimate—even during flat-out assaults like "Iesnú!, the disc's longest track, at over ten minutes. Beginning in complete freedom, with Björkenheim adopting a grittier tone, it gradually coalesces into a thundering rock groove somewhere in the vicinity of Jimi Hendrix, but with far more attitude and a significantly wider vernacular. The trio ultimately breaks back down into tumultuous chaos, Flaten's jaggedly distorted electric bass more an underlying presence—felt, rather than heard—with repeating pulses containing no apparent harmonic center.

Scorch Trio's idea of dynamic pacing means that even quieter tracks like "Orita" are not for the faint-at-heart. Rosaly colors the more subdued improv with greater delicacy, while Flaten creates pulsating dissonances and Björkenheim, sporting a cleaner tone, ebbs and flows with close voicings stemming from linear ideas—notes sometimes bent beyond all recognition. The title track emerges with a thundering, 10/4 bass line—the disc's closest tie to song form—that, bolstered by Rosaly's fluid groove, creates a context for some of Björkenheim's best playing on the disc, as he moves, with unfettered abandon, again into a Hendrixian realm of searing notes, angular power chords and whammy bar-driven swoops. Switching to an (uncredited) electric viola da gimbri on "Raitru," Björkenheim contributes softer colors on this more spacious and near-lyrical free piece; the calm before the storm of "Iesnú!."

Björkenheim has been busting boundaries since the late 1980s, with Finnish drummer Edward Vesala and Krakatau, while Flaten came a few years later, with artists ranging from Ken Vandermark to Bugge Wesseltoft. Rosaly hit the scene later still, but despite the age gap, Scorch Trio's unifying element is a collective aversion to convention and orthodoxy, while incorporating everything from metal density to more expansive free jazz. Furthering the trio's distinctive cross-genre pollination, Melaza is a challenging listen, but its focus and unconstrained expressionism suggests where power trios like the Jimi Hendrix Experience might have gone, had it dispensed with its allegiance to simple song form; instead, taking its rock-hard psychedelia into the realm of absolute and utter spontaneity.

Track Listing: Relajo; Bambalán; Fajao; Orita; Melaza; Estinche; Raitrú; Iesnú!.

Personnel: Raoul Björkenheim: electric guitar; Ingebrigt Håker Flaten: Fender bass; Frank Rosaly: drums.

Title: Melaza | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Rune Grammofon

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