Jürgen Friedrich – Pollock – Pirouet PIT3039, 51:46 ****:
(Jürgen Friedrich – piano; John Hébert – bass; Tony Moreno – drums)
Jürgen Friedrich’s newest piano trio outing, Pollock, is a subtly moving, melodic project akin to likeminded jazz artists such as Brad Mehldau or Bill Evans. Friedrich, bassist John Hébert and drummer Tony Moreno have been together for a just over a decade, although since they reside on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean, they do not operate as a unit as often as other jazz trios. But the three friends share a sensitive communication, which is on display throughout Pollock’s 11 tracks.
Except for a pure interpretation of a Monk tune, all of the songs are originals that showcase the threesome’s pastoral, economical and thoughtful tendencies. That’s not to say the material does not swing, which is evident on opener, "Drift," a Friedrich composition that starts and finishes with a sequence of crisp piano notes, with a middle section dilated with an energetic rhythm and highlighted by triplicated interaction. Friedrich’s improvisational phrasing remains in a consistent condition of variation, while Hébert freely plays or chases through Friedrich’s harmonic structure, rendering a chord here or there, sometimes by utilizing discerning references or just a suggestive tonal gesture.
The comparable "Ripple," another Friedrich-penned piece, continues the process of immediate spontaneity, and has a fluid feel and a tender lyricism. "Ripple" has a searching quality, particularly when Friedrich commences small flourishes of slight dissonance matched by Moreno’s ambulant percussive effects and Hébert’s nuanced bass, which all give the cut a pulsating propulsion.
In adhering to the album title’s connection to American abstract painter Jackson Pollock, there are a number of songs that have a painterly perception. The impression of movement within a canvassed frame, which Pollock created with his famous action painting technique, is alluded to during Hébert’s enigmatically named "Billy No Mates." The beginning unveils a darkly hued inward beauty, before Freidrich adopts a moderately brighter demeanor with some off-center and lucid keyboard runs. Hébert paces gracefully during the sedate moments, but performs some authoritative, swirling bass lines when the mood escalates.
The minimalist missive "Enclosed" is another dimly-pigmented work, one that hints at twilight colors being spread across a blank canvas. Friedrich’s lower-register keyboard inflection is doubled by Hébert’s dusky bass and Moreno’s stark cymbal swashes.
Ironically, the title track is not a fully-developed composition, but instead one of two short interludes evenly spaced along the record’s breadth. However, it is apparent on first listen this is the only unmistakably three-way collective impromptu event, and Friedrich, Hébert and Moreno produce a brief but beguiling concoction that is intricate and unsettling. The other under-two-minute condensed commentary is "Wayward," a visually-inclined soundscape accented by Moreno’s exotic percussive effects that furnish a synthesized, almost electronic resonance.
The trio has a way of playing that gets to the heart or crux of the matter. That approach is promptly noticed during the impressionistic take of Thelonious Monk’s "Round Midnight." Unlike most translations, Friedrich, Hébert, and Moreno do not stray from Monk’s iconic theme, with the exception of some introductory piano harmonies. The three musicians judiciously combine respect and admiration for Monk’s jazz hymn, while instilling the oft-covered rendition with a distinctive personality. The outcome is a procession of nimble images and earnest observations that convey Monk’s temperament and soul, reflecting his intentions and spirit, rather than using the main motif as an excuse for solo or harmonic ego boosting.
Engineer Jason Seizer has done a masterful job capturing all of the rhythmic ticks, keyboard tics, and sensitivity inherent to this project’s material. There are various times when the open space contains little but a gentle cymbal stroke or featherweight pattering on the piano, and other instances when the three musicians crash with cacophony, yet the fullness of both extremes is vividly and luminously exhibited.
2. Round Midnight
5. I Am Missing Her
8. Billy No Mates
— Doug Simpson