Trichotomy – Variations – Naim naimcd131, 64:54 ***1/2:
(Sean Foran – piano; John Parker – drums; Pat Marchisella – acoustic bass; guests on track 4: Christa Powell – violin; Bernard Hoey – viola; John Babbage – alto saxophone; guests on track 5: Peter Knight – trumpet; Lawrence English – electronics)
There is an exoticness to Australia: those not from Down Under expect unusual characteristics from the land of kangaroos, wombats and koala bears. And so it is with the diverse music by Australian trio Trichotomy. The threesome’s third outing, Variations – the first to be released internationally – lives up to the definition of the band’s name: a splitting into three parts or an idea that has a threefold nature.
Fittingly, the ten tracks show the group’s variable influences and directions. There are traces of European jazz and forward-thinking modernity (Vijay Iyer or The Bad Plus come to mind) with smidgens of post-rock and ambient techno, filtered into a symmetry between notated composition and completely free improvisation that is neither jazz nor rock but a combination of both.
Pianist Sean Foran, drummer John Parker and acoustic bassist Pat Marchisella founded their trio in 1999 while studying music in Queensland and decided there would be no leaders in this non-traditional conventional trio format. All three compose: Foran has five tracks, Parker has four and Marchisella is given credit on the album’s final improvisation. Additionally, no one instrument ever dominates: piano, bass and drums take up both solo and rhythmic space.
Variations opens with Foran’s mid-tempo, Latin-tinged “Island of the Sun,” where Foran’s sweeping piano lines, intricate left-hand reiterations and countermelodies are balanced against his contemplative maneuvers; at the same time, Marchisella illustrates his capacity with bass contributions that move from classic jazz to heavy, amplified distortion. Foran’s aptly titled “Branching Out” is another piece that combines lyrical passages with deep-pocket grooves within a constantly shifting framework. The players’ interaction is clairvoyant and fluent while exploring their collective communication.
Parker’s tunes have experimental sensibilities that exhibit harder rhythms and a modern classical underpinning, exemplified during “Start,” which merges elements of minimalism with a slice of folk, abetted by creative metallic echoes, violin and viola, and underlying alto saxophone. The track begins with burnished melodic lines and then turns to a pensive, abstract middle section where Foran employs hammered piano strings. The cut ends as it commences with handsome ascending figures. The nervous “Variations on a Bad Day” advances from single-note piano phrases into jumpy rhythmic pacing and then crashes headlong into a magnitude-ten expanse carried by fuzzed-out bass and Foran’s polyrhythmically dense chords.
The concluding tunes showcase Trichotomy’s triple-sided personality. Foran’s inventive “The Unknown” includes percussive portions featuring handclaps, irregular rhythms and Foran’s supportive lyricism. The unearthly improvisation “Labyrinth” is an appropriate closing statement and is marked by Foran’s prepared piano strings, Parker’s scuttling percussion and Marchisella’s mysterious upper register arco bass. The atmospheric, ambient excursion may not rest will with the trad jazz audience but alt-rock fans who know Radiohead or Tortoise will understand the instrumental perception.
Jazz listeners are forewarned: while fidelity and audio quality is finely detailed, the discordance, distortion and dissonance that flow through some – but certainly not all – of the material may not be a treat for some ears. Others – who gravitate toward music inclined to sonic contortion or vortexes – will enjoy the ride.
1. Island of the Sun
2. At the Right Moment
3. Branching Out
6. Variations on a Bad Day
9. The Unknown
— Doug Simpson