Fact Finding Mission
Wednesday, February 06, 2013
Reviewed by: Ian Mann
The music bristles with intelligence and ideas to create Trichotomy's most mature album to date.
“Fact Finding Mission”
(Naim Jazz naimcd186)
“Fact Finding Mission” is Trichotomy’s third album release for Naim Records following the success of “Variations”(2010) and “The Gentle War” (2011), two hugely enjoyable albums that have both been reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann. The Australian trio consists of pianist Sean Foran, drummer John Parker and bassist Pat Marchisella. They’ve actually been working together for ten years and the Naim deal has seen them steadily growing their fan base in the UK. I’ve enjoyed the trio’s live performances on a couple of occasions (at Stratford upon Avon in 2010 and Cardiff in 2011, both documented elsewhere on this site) and I’m looking forward to seeing them at Cafe Jazz in Cardiff again as part of their current tour. Trichotomy’s visits to the UK (usually in the early part of the year) are becoming something of an annual event and the group has strong links to the British scene due to Foran’s studies at Leeds College of Music (his contemporaries included guitarist Chris Sharkey and bassist Dave Kane).
A thoroughly contemporary piano trio Trichotomy are routinely compared to e.s.t. and The Bad Plus and the group also cite Tord Gustavsen, Vijay Iyer, John Zorn, Aphex Twin and Radiohead as influences not forgetting fellow Aussies, The Necks. Composing duties are split between Foran and Parker but Marchisella also makes a vital contribution to a highly individual group sound, the result of the trio’s lengthy association.
To these ears each of Trichotomy’s Naim releases has represented a clear progression and for my money “Fact Finding Mission” is their finest work yet. The music bristles with intelligence and ideas and there’s an energy and focus about the playing that makes The Bad Plus’ albums sound tepid by comparison (I’ve never found that Iverson and co.‘s recordings come anywhere near replicating the excitement of their live shows).
“Fact Finding Mission” is also aided by the presence of a number of guest musicians who help to give the record a welcome element of variation and instrumental diversity. The extra voices include guitarist James Muller and the duo DVA comprised of percussionist Tunji Beier and reeds player Linsey Pollak. All combine superbly with the core trio to create Trichotomy’s most mature album to date.
The album begins with an opening salvo from Parker’s drums on the Foran composition “Strom” (meaning stream, current or flow). It’s an apt title as Foran’s piano sketches a hypnotic pattern which swiftly interlocks with Parker’s drums and Marchisella’s bass. However the urgency is interspersed with more lyrical moments as the piece ebbs and flows in the spirit of its title.
Also by Foran “The Blank Canvas Pt. 1” features the Metheny like guitar of guest James Muller who sounds fully integrated with the trio on the stop/start, folkish theme. Muller solos at length his tone warm and flexible. The piece gathers groove, urgency and momentum as Foran takes over and there’s also something of a drum feature for the consistently inventive Parker.
The advent of children has clearly had an influence on the writing. After the snap and clatter of the opening two numbers Parker’s “Lullaby”, written for his two young sons, is a beguiling ballad that demonstrates that Trichotomy can also be supremely lyrical. Spacious piano combines effectively with the composer’s delicate percussion shadings to create something that is beautiful in its simplicity.
Parker’s title track begins with a bang and features sampled speech, writing for the US website All About Jazz reviewer Bruce Lindsay suggests that the voices are those of Richard Nixon and George W Bush. The combination of their words plus the powerful music of the group creates an unsettling atmosphere of creeping paranoia, the time-scales may not match but to me there’s a kind of “Cold War” feel about it all. The trio are at their most “rock” with Parker slamming out powerful rhythms and with Marchisella distorting the sound of his bass, Dan Berglund style, to make it sound almost like a horn. If I’d heard this cold then the combination of the American voices plus the ferocity of the playing would have made me swear that it was The Bad Plus.
The following “Song For EV” calms things down again. This time it’s Foran honouring his children with a song for his young daughter. It’s gently undulating patterns and rhythms house a very different Marchisella solo, this time played without the bow and with the focus on a more lyrical side of his playing. The piece gathers momentum with Foran’s solo, a joyous outpouring of melodic and rhythmic ideas accompanied by Parker’s colourful and imaginative drumming and Marchisella’s percolating bass groove.
The title of Parker’s “Civil Unrest” is another hint at a political element in the drummer’s writing. Here the trio are joined by guitarist Muller and percussionist Beier, I’m assuming that it’s the latter that also produces the Jews harp sound that appears intermittently throughout the track. The piece consists of fiercely funky passages interspersed by more impressionistic episodes that John Fordham, writing in The Guardian, compared to the music of Ennio Morricone. It’s perhaps no coincidence that one of the facts to come out of the Cardiff show in 2011was that Parker and Foran had been on a film composing course (the results of this were also heard on the “Gentle War” album). In any event “Civil Unrest” is a tour de force, full of interesting juxtapositions of sounds and with Marchisella and Muller both featuring strongly as soloists.
Foran’s “The Brook” also makes use of relatively unorthodox sounds (hand-claps, dampened piano strings) to help create a dense rhythmic canvas that Foran contrasts with a sparse, simple melody. However the pianist allows himself plenty of room to stretch out and his playing is often dazzling. Parker and Marchisella are no less impressive as they set about the rhythmic complexities of a piece that seems destined to become something of a live favourite on the current tour.
Muller returns for the second part of Foran’s “The Blank Canvas” which opens with a ruminative passage of solo piano before establishing an e.s.t like groove which is ultimately embellished by Muller’s fluent guitar, again sounding very Metheny like.
The album closes with the atmospheric “Brick By Brick” which features the DVA duo of Beier and Pollak. The warm sounds of the latter’s reeds slide sinuously around Marchisella’s bass pulse on a piece that combines Eastern European melodies with jazz harmonies with Beier’s percussion providing additional colour and rhythm. Like much of the writing on the album it’s colourful, imaginative and sophisticated as Trichotomy continue, on record at least, to expand the sound of the piano trio. The core trio are in superb form throughout but it’s the way in which they integrate their guests that is, if anything, even more impressive.
“Fact Finding Mission” deserves to build upon Trichotomy’s already substantial reputation. Their output for Naim represents an impressive body of work and demands that they be considered as one of the world’s premier piano trios. Interestingly the group have received financial support from the trio’s home state of Queensland and from the national government via the Australia Council For The Arts. Well done Australia, can you imagine jazz getting the same kind of support here?
In the meantime UK listeners are urged to catch the band on their current tour at the following dates;
Wed Feb 06 7:00 pm UK Tour - Pizza Express
Pizza Express Jazz Club, London
Thu Feb 07 8:30 pm UK Tour - Watermill Jazz
Watermill Jazz Club - Friends Life Sports and Social Club, Dorking
Fri Feb 08 8:00 pm UK Tour - The Apex
The Apex, Bury St Edmunds
Sat Feb 09 8:00 pm UK Tour - Turner Sims Concert Hall
Turner Sims Concert Hall University of Southampton, Southampton
Sun Feb 10 9:00 pm UK Tour - Cafe Jazz
Cafe Jazz, Cardiff
Tue Feb 12 9:00 pm UK Tour -St Ives Jazz Club
St Ives Jazz Club - Western Hotel, St Ives
Wed Feb 13 8:00 pm UK Tour - Lakeside Arts Centre
Lakeside Arts Centre, Nottingham
Thu Feb 14 8:00 pm UK Tour - Seven Arts
Seven Arts, Chapel Allerton Leeds
Fri Feb 15 8:00 pm UK Tour - Matt n Phreds
Matt N Phreds Jazz Club, Manchester
Further information at http://www.trichotomymusic.com
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