by Ian Mann
December 20, 2017
One of the best and most exciting ‘jazz with strings’ recordings that I’ve heard.
“Live with String Quartet”
The Australian piano trio Trichotomy have been Jazzmann favourites since I reviewed their album “Variations” back in 2010 and enjoyed a live performance by the band at Stratford-upon-Avon Jazz Club shortly afterwards. I’ve since seen three further performances by the trio in Cardiff, all of the excellent. The first two were at Safe Jazz in 2011 and 2013, the third at the Dora Stoutzker Concert Hall at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in February 2017.
I have also continued to keep abreast of Trichotomy’s recorded output and have reviewed their studio albums “The Gentle War” (2011), “Fact Finding Mission” (2013) and “KNOWN-UNKNOWN” (2017), the latter appearing on the Dutch imprint Challenge Records following a lengthy tenure with the British label Naim Jazz.
Originally founded at Queensland Conservatorium Trichotomy have been together for almost twenty years and are a highly interactive trio with a strong group identity. “Variations” was their third album but the first to enjoy an international release and it’s fair to say that each subsequent recording has exhibited clear signs of artistic growth, an impressive feat for a band of such longevity.
Trichotomy features founder members pianist Sean Foran and drummer John Parker with Samuel Vincent taking over the bass chair for “KNOWN-UNKNOWN” after replacing the long serving Pat Marchisella. The trio’s music has always been written by Foran and Parker with each album being split roughly fifty-fifty albeit with a slight bias towards the prolific Foran. Vincent has added a third compositional voice to the group with one piece featuring on “KNOWN-UNKNOWN”.
Trichotomy have always been open to many influences from jazz to rock to modern classical music.
They have cited as inspirations such diverse acts as The Necks, E.S.T. , The Bad Plus, Tord Gustavsen, Vijay Iyer, Brad Mehldau, Pat Metheny. John Zorn, Radiohead, Aphex Twin, Tortoise and Igor Stravinsky.
The trio have always collaborated with other musicians and their studio recordings have included guest appearances by string and horn players, guitarists and percussionists. They have also worked frequently with classical ensembles including the Southern Cross Soloists, Collusion, Lunarie Collective and the Queensland Symphony Orchestra..
In 2014 Trichotomy worked in conjunction with the chamber ensemble Topology to produce the album “Healthy”, a work co-credited to both ensembles. It’s a recording that slipped through the Jazzmann’s reviewing net but its success encouraged the further classical collaborations detailed above.
In May 2017 Trichotomy collaborated with the Expressions Dance Company providing music for the show “Behind Closed Doors”, the music subsequently being released on the album of the same name. The recording features contributions from vocalist Kristin Berardi, saxophonists Rafael Karlin and Julian Arguelles, guitarist Stuart McCallum, cellist Ben Davis and drummer Joost Hendrickx.
The British musicians Arguelles, McCallum, Davis and Hendrickx all appeared on Foran’s excellent solo album “Frame of Reference” which was released in 2016. Trichotomy, and particularly Foran, have retained strong ties with the UK, links that were forged when Foran spent some time studying at Leeds College of Music. It’s these bonds that have helped to encourage Trichotomy’s frequent visits to the UK, usually in the British winter as they endeavour to escape the savage heat and humidity of the summers in their Brisbane home.
The releases of “KNOWN-UNKNOWN” and “Behind Closed Doors” have ensured that 2017 has been a very productive and creative year for Trichotomy. This is now being topped off with the appearance of “Live with String Quartet”, an archive item that was first recorded in 2014 but which has just emerged from the vaults as Foran explains;
“Back in 2012 we composed a piece of music for piano and string quartet – it was something we had been planning on doing for some time. We played it at various festivals between 2012-14 and managed to record the last performance. I’d completely forgotten we’d got it stashed away but a colleague asked about it and we thought – oh yes, that one! Well this really deserves a wider audience so it’s time to get it out there,”
“Live with String Quartet” was recorded in October 2014 at the Declassified Music Festival in Brisbane and features Foran on piano, Parker at the drums and Vincent on bass, the latter having recently taken over from Marchisella. The String Quartet consisted of Sarah Curro and Rebecca Adler on violins, Bernard Hoey on viola and Dan Curro on cello.
The programme features five substantial original compositions, three by Foran and two by Parker, comprising of the four movements of the 2012 suite alluded to above plus “Out Of The Dark Sky”, a Foran piece commissioned for the 2014 Declassified Music Festival and inspired by the artwork of Yvonne Mills-Stanley.
The programme commences with Parker’s “Dancing About Architecture” and it is immediately apparent just how well the strings are integrated into the music. This is far more than a ‘piano trio plus strings’ recording, one senses that the seven piece ensemble is genuinely a single minded, multi limbed, fully functioning entity. Trichotomy may be a long and well established unit but it’s far from exclusive and positively encourages integration, experimentation and collaboration.
Appropriately for a drummer’s composition Parker’s piece is highly rhythmic with pizzicato strings combining with jazz bass and drums to create a lattice of interlocking rhythms that recalls the complexities of Reich, Glass etc. The string players are equally inventive with their bowing and the seven musicians combine to create an exhilarating opening movement that combines jazz rhythms, classical technique and even splashes of folk inspired melody.
Solo piano introduces Foran’s “An Acre Of Time”, a more reflective, but no less effective piece that once more combines arco and pizzicato string sounds with the quartet again finely attuned to Trichotomy’s music. Gorgeous string melodies combine with the innate lyricism of Foran’s piano playing while Parker and Vincent offer sensitive rhythmic accompaniment. Foran’s playing becomes more expansive as the piece develops episodically with the dynamics rising and falling. A taut, rhythmic section gives away to a further passage of lyrical solo piano, this in turn leading to a further section featuring the sounds of strings both bowed and plucked allied to Parker’s succinct percussive accompaniment.
Foran’s Festival commission “Out Of The Dark Sky” commences with the sound of hand claps and dampened piano strings (the “Healthy” album included an arrangement of Steve Reich’s “Clapping”) but the music subsequently moves into more obvious ‘chamber’ territory, again featuring a mix of bowed and pizzicato strings. Beautiful string melodies abound, again hinting at a folk influence, and Foran’s touch at the piano is also delightful. But this is music that never stays in one place for long and the music quickly becomes more rhythmic, the energy levels rise, the bowing becomes more vigorous and the clapping briefly returns. After to coming to something of a peak there’s a long, slow fade featuring the beautiful but melancholic sounds of the strings shadowed by Foran’s piano. This is music that is constantly evolving yet the changes sound perfectly natural, organic and totally unforced, a virtue that is a tribute to the quality of both the writing and the playing.
Also from the pen of Foran “A State Of Change” opens with the sounds of the strings interacting with Parker’s drums on a piece that combines elegant melodies with buoyant rhythms. There’s a typically rich array of sounds, textures and dynamics on a composition that includes more vigorous interaction between drums and strings. “This music allows us to really write and play in new ways” explains drummer Parker, “there’s more harmony and rhythmic parts to create, but also more space to play around with” - qualities that are amply demonstrated here.
Finally it’s Parker’s own “Life Gets In The Way” that concludes this excellent album. Introduced by the taut, urgent, rhythmic bowing of the string quartet the music gradually gathers even greater momentum with the addition of piano, bass and drums. There’s a song like quality about the melodies but in a typically multi-faceted composition we get to enjoy a more abstract and impressionistic string passage mid tune leading to a rousing, almost anthemic, final section featuring soaring melodies and powerful rhythms prior to a brief, unexpected melancholic fade.
The Brisbane audience loved this performance and gave the ensemble a terrific reception – and rightly so. One can see why Foran and his colleagues thought that this was music too good to be left in the vaults. It’s one of the best and most exciting ‘jazz with strings’ recordings that I’ve heard. This is a tightly knit, finely tuned ensemble that seems to think as one. Conventional solos are few and far between although the melodic lead moves frequently between piano and strings. But it’s the rhythmic interplay that is perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the music in a performance where the focus of the listener is constantly shifting. This was a concert where both band and audience had to be consistently on their toes.
Too often in the past the presence of strings has stifled the creativity of jazz performers. Here the effect has been totally the opposite with the String Quartet bringing out the best of both themselves and Trichotomy. This is a recording that bristles with energy and creativity and it’s good to have it out there in the public domain.
For details of how to purchase “Live with String Quartet” please visit http://www.trichotomymusic.com
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