THREE WAYS OF LOOKING AT A TRIO


Tern
, Louis Moholo, Larry Stabbins, Keith Tippett (Atavistic. UMS/ALP 245CD)
Angles of Repose, Joe Maneri, Barre Phillips, Matt Maneri (ECM Records. 980 6760)
Moment Returns, Triosk (Leaf Label. Bay39CD)


Encountering the trio in jazz settings all too often means another assembly of piano/bass/drums or sax/bass/drums which in many instances is fine, but it is sometimes more intriguing to discover other combinations which break with the format and produce music that is beyond the 'soloist with rhythm section' line-up. The Moholo/Stabbins/Tippett release is certainly in this category.

Released, all too appropriately, under the Unheard Music Series this superb recording is a re-issue from FMP Archive Editions of what was, in 1982, a double LP set. Due to the constraints of the cd format one track has been omitted, nevertheless it is gratifying to have this music available once more.

The 1980s were dark times for the likes of Tippett and Moholo when there was reduced interest in their brand of jazz in the UK. Fashion had changed and their music was neither popular nor marketable. In terms of live work more gigs were to be found in Europe, in this case Berlin, where these performances were recorded. Germany's FMP Records were crucial in documenting such work at a time when major companies were hell-bent on ignoring it. But enough of the history.

What emerges from this set is the sound of three musicians who know each other's moves intimately whilst still allowing for the unexpected. Moholo's drumming has powered many jazz outfits from The Blue Notes onward and his partnership with Tippett developed in many British based bands. The still under-rated Stabbins has been with Tippett since the heady days of Centipede.

The first part of the title track exemplifies their astonishing rapport as the piece moves seamlessly from Tippett's dark, opening thunder set against Stabbins' and Moholo lighter touches. Gradually the soprano asserts itself and at one point develops a folksy extemporisation. Part two opens with the unusual but complementary feature of Tippett's voice in duet with the soprano. There is something arresting and primal about this combination but it is only a brief interlude before the saxophonist unleashes a tidal wave of pure invention, driven by both drummer and pianist. As the piece develops there is a balance of vigorous group engagement and reflective exploration. All of it is compelling and leaves me baffled as to why so many seemed to think this music was too difficult to bother with.

'Mania/Dance' starts off gently with softly ululating sax, light cymbal work and Tippett teasing barely audible sounds from the piano's strings. Gradually, it builds in intensity, Stabbins exploring with controlled passion while Tippett characteristically employs a mostly percussive attack, building  walls of sound with Moholo. Again, the key element is empathy, each player listening closely to the other and responding swiftly. This is a superb example of control and intensity in free improvisation, moving and full-blooded music that never strays into mere directionless 'blowing'.

As a conclusion they chose a re-titled theme which has appeared on both Tippett's large group work, 'Frames' and the material he arranged for the Georgian ensemble and Mujician. The stately motif of 'The Greatest Service' is outlined by the pianist then used as the basis for a further energetic trio improvisation featuring powerhouse drumming and some hoarse declamations from Stabbins. If anyone were in doubt about the fire and cohesion of this music I'd suggest they listen to this track, if possible, but really it is an all or nothing experience of the most rewarding kind from start to finish and I am grateful to Atavistic and anyone else concerned for making it available again.


I have listened to Joe Maneri on several occasions and I'm still not certain what it is that others see/hear in his work. I find it cold and bloodless, his voice a cry in a wilderness I'm not tempted to enter and explore. Here, amidst the relative warmth of bassist Phillips' playing his sound is harsh and grating and, to my ears, completely unappealing. Why is this ? There is certainly something different in his approach to improvisation and it can't all be to do with the microtonal approach he is frequently associated with. Take for instance 'Number Three' where he is unaccompanied. The sound is chilly and somewhat shapeless, the sax bellowing or moaning like some lost and confused creature trying to locate an exit from the labyrinth. And this is the overall impression I gained from several tracks.

The most moving sections of this recording are when Phillips and Mat Maneri  blend their strings and introduce a warmer element to the proceedings, as on 'Number Five'. Here the viola soars and swoops over the sympathetic double bass which switches between pizzicato and arco. This duo setting is more passionate and engaging than much of the cd and I'd like to hear more of their work together. But, as for Maneri senior I'm afraid his playing remains in a territory that is at best forbidding and which remains closed to me.

Mixtures of jazz and electronics are no longer new or startling and the success of any work that fuses these elements depends perhaps on the subtle integration that takes place between them. Triosk are an Australian trio, comprising piano/keyboards/vibes, bass and drums who operate in this field. In addition each player makes use of loops and samples as part of their overall treatment of the trio's basic sound. So the result is often located in a kind of twilight area between piano jazz and the gentler manifestations of electronica.

Their music is a curiously dreamy amalgam that finds busy drumming pitched next to sturdy acoustic bass while keyboard loops and other samples float and dissolve around them. For example, on 'Love Chariot' they utilise a loop not unlike something Soft Machine's Mike Ratledge might have created. This then becomes the foundation over which limpid vibes and urgent percussion combine to build a series of suspended moments.

This is fairly typical of their process and can be witnessed elsewhere, for instance, on 'The Streets Are Empty'. Again a keyboard loop hovers while distant drumming echoes and ricochets before the piece reaches a more harsh, fuzz-laden conclusion. Sometimes they create a tension rather than simply a wash of attractive sounds. 'Chrono' works in this way, stitching together cascading piano, samples and busy drumming in a way that makes the track appear slightly threatening.

The two part 'Tomorrowtoday' again makes use of loops to set up a glassy web of keyboards/vibes that develops into a more muscular workout with drums to the fore and some flexible double bass that anchors the sound more firmly in human territory. Tracks like this seem to get the balance right and are the ones I will return to.

If you want extensive, straight ahead trio improvisations then this may not be for you but if you want to hear some interesting textures that combine acoustic and electric approaches to the jazz trio then this is well worth seeking out.


       Paul Donnelly 2004