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Elliot Galvin Trio – Punch – Edition

Elliot Galvin Trio – Punch – Edition 1076, 38:14 (7/29/16) ****:

(Elliot Galvin; piano, kalimba, accordion, cassette player, melodica, stylophone/ Tom McCredie; double bass/ Simon Roth; drums, percussion and glockenspiel)

Technically dazzling, wildly innovative trio music well outside the normal jazz trio in terms of conception and theatricality.

I would think that the jazz piano tradition presses down rather heavily on the aspiring young musician. First, there are the high technical standards for any working musician in the business, not to mention the levels represented by modernist greats from Bill Evans to Bill Charlap. Then there is the enormous refinement of the various styles. How can one say something new in the oversubscribed tradition of post-bebop, ECM modal, or avant-avant? However, in the record under review, Punch, Elliot Galvin doesn’t seem to be stymied in the least, nor to have qualm or reservation about his relation to the jazz tradition. This might be because he has a head full of zany ideas of his own, or it might owe to a technique that has been forged in the white heat of 20th-century classical music rather than in mastering the rhetoric of bebop. In any case, Galvin and his mates Simon Roth (drums) and Tom McCredie (bass) enjoy a wildly antic romp through ten original tunes. There is a lot of English humor here, many surprises, some irony and farce, and even a bit of pure aggravation. As far as originality is concerned, Galvin trio stands squarely in the best tradition of jazz.

The first track, Punch and Judy, begins with some manipulated squealing cassette tape and fragments of what sounds like a TV show. “Now look what you have done with the baby!” chides a woman’s voice. If nothing else, it serves as a warning to prepare for the unexpected on what might be a session of tricks and japes. But when the trio kicks in at a gallop, one’s annoyance turns into amazement. The pianist plays furious counter-point in staggering rhythmic displacements which demonstrate an extreme technique of hand (and brain) independence. Just when you can take it no longer, drums and bass drop out and the piano “trades fours” with the cassette tape: “where is the baby?” and “that’s right, boys and girls.” Mercifully the business comes to an end.

Although you have received due warning on the first piece, nothing can prepare you for the second, Hurdy Gurdy. There is a long and irregularly-metered riff which invokes Gyorgy Ligeti and Keith Jarrett in one of his hectic moods. Things speed up, and there are spirited exchanges with the drummer. Abruptly, the pianist quits the stool, picks up the melodica and wails hurdy-gurdy style to the end. It is a puzzling and nonchalant demonstration of supreme technique while at the same time high-spirited and playful.

On TIpu’s Tiger, the pianist scales down further by switching out for the kalimba which is joined by some delicate glockenspiel and, belatedly, the bass. Despite the bizarre ensemble, this is the least experimental piece. The melody invokes a Brahmsian lullaby; Perhaps it is an effort to make things good with the baby after the mischief of the first track. In any case it is a completely affecting piece.

Rolling and Blop follow. The former at nine seconds consists of the engineer’s “it’s rolling.” The latter brings back the cassette tape, which, if I was the principal of the school, I would definitely take away from these boys. A more vehement and dark hurdy-gurdy style on the melodica ensues with a driving beat giving way to a quick groove. Lions has much of the same intensity on prepared piano. Simon Roth gives good account on the drum kit and heady ensemble interactions and a dazzling velocity on what sounds like a crazed harpsichord take us to the end.  1666, a bad year for fires and rats in London, is a spare and balanced composition. A beautifully executed trill reminds us again of the long hours spent in the practice room on the serious repertoire. Mack The Knife is deranged almost beyond recognition. It stomps along with a parody of menace.  Annoyance builds, and the glockenspiel doesn’t make it any better. And yet something of the genius of Kurt Weill is captured in this strange and unpleasant tribute. Polari is an uptempo scramble that has has the attention span of a squirrel. If this is purely improvised playing, it is unprecedented. If it is scored out, it is very odd.  Cosy starts with whistling and takes us back to a early TV feel. It roils up a soulful groove in which bass and drums dig in heartily while the pianist plies on his dissonant cluster-chords.

At the end of the 38:14, far from feeling neglected for a half a set, one feels a surfeit of musical invention. It is no surprise that Mr Galvin has garnered awards, such as Germany’s Young Jazz Artist of the Year in 2014 for his innovative work.  And here his bold conceptions are ably supported by the extraordinary technical prowess of a great rhythm duo as well. The humor and eccentricity are as fresh as an open window in Spring.

TrackList: Punch and Judy; Hurdy-Gurdy; Tipu’s Tiger; Rolling; Blop; Lions; 1666; Mack The Knife; Polari; Cosy

—Fritz Balwit

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