Andy Biskin spins a musical tragicomedy on Trio Tragico. With Dave Ballou (trumpet) and Drew Gress (bass), he presents a melancholic but discretely jovial blend of chamber music and exciting new rhythms.
The clarinetist's live set at Cornelia Street Café in early October captured the electricity of the trio. The improvisational bits of the performance were clean and affable, without tonal contradictions or awkward transitions. Onstage, Biskin seemed to be just as comfortable talking about his songs as he was playing them. His ease and self- deprecation were projected through the nimble range of his clarinet, in robust milky notes.
What's evident on the recording is also striking in this group's live shows. Biskin, Ballou and Gress possess the extraordinary ability to coordinate effortlessly; each enters when he is supposed to in a spookily synchronized, completely fluid way. The result is a polytonal but singularly focused, holistic performance, piece after piece and note after note.
Polar emotions like pleasure and misery make up the obvious thematic template, but the songs branch out comfortably. The exquisite "Night Shade plays like an audio seduction via tango-infused rhythms, and its dark, romantic undertones are consistent throughout. "You Who, the second-to-last track on the album, serves as a vacuum that typifies the energy and emotional theatricality of the record.
Both the record and the live show opened with "Boomerang, a nifty little piece that communicates a sense of gravitas, despite the skittering trumpet jerks and contouring bass lines that begin almost immediately.
Each piece has a mercurial shell that chips after each of the trumpet's spasms, and the ominous core is only heightened by the multiple high and low notes of the clarinet. The density of the tracks does not affect their buoyancy, and the album manages to be both cheerfully wistful and mournfully lighthearted.
Boomerang; I Should Talk; Hey Day; Walking Distance; I Think Not; You That Knew Him;
Paging Mr. Yes; Night Shade; Over The years; Top Left Corner; Still Busy (The Honk Honk
Song); You Who; Plaything.
Andy Biskin: clarinet, bass clarinet; Dave Ballou: trumpet; Drew Gress: bass.