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Max Johnson Trio: The Invisible Trio

Karl Ackermann By

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The musical lineage within the small circle of bassist Max Johnson's trio is unquestionably among the finest in cutting-edge jazz. The leader has played with bassist William Parker, alto legend Anthony Braxton, trombonist Steve Swell and drummer Tyshawn Sorey. In the case of Johnson's current trio, his drummer, Ziv Ravitz, is also a member of the Lee Konitz Quartet and has performed with Joe Lovano, Tomasz Stanko, Aaron Parks and many others. Kirk Knuffke ranks as an equal to Rob Mazurek and Taylor Ho Bynum as one of the top cornet players in jazz. On The Invisible Trio—the second outing for the trio—Johnson's work projects excitement but without dictating an attitude; it is both intellectual and melodic.

The energy here is a culmination of different—and occasionally opposing—forces that Johnson pulls together at seemly random points. The spontaneity of the trio and the individual contributions of the players create layers of texture and consequently the impression of each relatively compact piece being longer in duration. Opening The Invisible Trio is "The Pretzel," a piece that feels straight-ahead until the trio makes short work of traditional expectations and a slightly off-kilter approach morphs into several distinctive lines of attack. "Bizza" is equally resistant to categorization as the slow bluesy cornet and bass line transform into a unique amalgam of west coast cool and free form improvisation.

"Held for Questioning" take the inventiveness to another level with each trio member employing the whole-brain to pursue their own respective paths while remaining aware of the surrounding musical environment. This is especially evident in the responsiveness between bowed bass and cornet which seems to come out of nowhere and dissipates quickly. Just as the piece finally comes together a subtle middle-eastern flavor emerges from below the surface. Ravitz opens the play-on-words "Don Wrinkles" with a great high energy solo before giving way to the blistering intervention of Knuffke. The relatively short but beautiful title track features Knuffke eerily floating in at the start with Johnson and Ravitz initially keeping their distance. In unison the trio takes the piece up to a spiritual-like treatment and adds yet another creative aspect to The Invisible Trio.

The music of Johnson's trio has been described as experimental, avant-garde, free and it is all the above as it shifts like a hologram from one form to another occasionally interjecting some straight-ahead elements. There is a notable diversity of styles here from the hard-edged "Moving Vehicle" to the relative tranquility of "Pair of Glasses" to the raucous improvisation of "The Golem" but at the common core of The Invisible Trio is great group improvisations punctuated by terrific solos from each of the members. The paradox of this radiant, improvised set is that as the individual improvisations become more intricate they also become more integrated and, as a whole, organic.

Track Listing: The Pretzel; Bizza; Held for Questioning; Don Wrinkles; The Invisible Trio; Moving Vehicle; A Pair of Glasses; The Golem.

Personnel: Kirk Knuffke: cornet; Max Johnson: double bass; Ziv Ravitz: drums.

Title: The Invisible Trio | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Fresh Sound New Talent

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