The concept of a sax-bass-drums trio is not a new one, but Washington, DC's Anansi Trio puts a new twist on the idea through Mark Merella playing what he calls a hybrid drum kit, incorporating conga drums, cymbals and parts of a trap drum set. This adds extra measures of bounce and groove to his playing and provides an exotic foundation for Matt Belzer's slippery saxophone and Larry Melton's deep bass to work from.
Group originals that emerge from this approach, such as "Freaks" and "On The Path," are both flexible and soulful. "Freaks" has a funky congas-and-bass rhythm reminiscent of 70's Curtis Mayfield, topped by undulating alto sax, creating a Middle Eastern groove ripe for belly dancing. "On The Path" projects a cooler Indian flavor with longer, straighter sax phrases and a subdued blend of hand-drumming and cymbal work. "Intrusive Thoughts" and "The Royal We" deal in a more urban style of funk and soul with Belzer playing short, dancing figures as Melton's bass lopes and Merella's drum kit shakes out frisky patterns. On "Altogether" Merella and Melton switch to a murmuring Africanized funk groove as Belzer plays hypnotic soprano sax. On this track in particular the three get close to the relentless, sweaty flow often conjured by percussionist Kahil El'Zabar and his Ethnic Heritage Ensemble.
The trio also apply their unique sound to a few jazz classics. Ornette Coleman's "Turnaround" blows through on a foundation of high-stepping bass and tricky percussion that gives Belzer the room to wail full-bodied blues. Bud Powell's "Un Poco Loco" is highlighted by a boisterous percussion break and rhapsodic alto yodeling. Arthur Blythe's "Odessa" is another potent trip to the Middle East, dominated by Belzer's intense, singing alto. John Coltrane's "Africa" gets an epic treatment with a carpet of cymbal clicks, hand-drum beats and bass throbs building up tension eventually released by Belzer's soulful warbling. The closing "Bipolarity," credited to all members of the trio, actually turns out to be the rhythmic structure of Jimi Hendrix's "Manic Depression" run into furious circles by the rhythm section while Belzer flies completely out, shrieking, singing and bellowing through his horn like Albert Ayler.
The Anansi Trio's ability to put together and embellish infectious melodies is amazing. Mark Merella's rhythmic pounding gives his two partners the space and inspiration to create a lot of deep-souled magic. These guys work wonders from the simplest of formats.
Intrusive Thoughts; The Royal We; Un Poco Loco; Odessa; Freaks; On The Path; Altogether; Turnaround; Africa; Bipolarity.
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