Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019


Tom Bancroft : Trio Red

Lucid Dreamers


by Ian Mann

July 04, 2016


A highly rewarding listen which combines a variety of musical styles and techniques within a trio framework.

Tom Bancroft : Trio Red

“Lucid Dreamers”

(Interrupto Music IM005)

“Lucid Dreamers” is the second album by Trio Red, the international ensemble featuring Scottish drummer Tom Bancroft, English pianist Tom Cawley and Norwegian bassist Per Zanussi.

Released at the end of April 2016 it represents the long awaited follow up to 2012’s “From First Hello To Long Goodbye”, an album that documented the playing of the freshly assembled trio from the very beginning and their first encounter. The two British musicians had worked together before but had never met Zanussi prior to the recording. However Bancroft’s decision to involve the Norwegian proved to be quite inspired and the resultant recording was extremely well received by the jazz media and public alike. As I commented at the time;
“Trio Red succeeds brilliantly and deserves to become more than just a one off project. In the crowded world of the piano trio this album stands out from the pack”.
I’m delighted to have been proved right and following successful tours in the UK and the USA Trio Red have established an impressive level of rapport which is happily in evidence throughout this new album. Of course it’s not a full time working group, the three musicians have too many other musical commitments for that, but it’s good to see that Trio Red is still an ongoing concern.

Bancroft has been a leading figure on the vibrant Scottish jazz scene for a number of years. He has been a member of Trio AAB (together with his twin brother, saxophonist Phil Bancroft) and of pianist Dave Milligan’s highly acclaimed trio as well as working as a sideman with other leading Scottish jazz musicians including pianist Chick Lyall, guitarist Kevin McKenzie and saxophonists Tommy Smith and Laura McDonald. Bancroft has also led his own big band Orchestro Interrupto and is a larger than life figure with a tremendous sense of fun, I once saw him play with Milligan at Cheltenham Jazz Festival and his drum feature was both brilliant and hilarious. These qualities have made him a popular educator who is able to strike up an easy rapport with children as his touring event Kidsamonium attests. For Bancroft an element of comedy is often an integral part of his music making, as exemplified by his madcap duo with Italian guitarist Enzo Rocco.

Bancroft also ran the much loved and much missed Caber record label which released over thirty albums documenting the best of the Scottish jazz scene between 1998 and 2005. The albums were immaculately produced and packaged and for a short but glorious period it looked as if Caber may develop to become a kind of Caledonian ECM. I was a regular customer and the label’s eventual demise due to straitened economic circumstances was a blow not just to the Scottish jazz scene but British jazz as a whole. Nevertheless it’s good to see Bancroft running his own imprint once more with the emergence of Interrupto Music.

The music on “Lucid Dreamers” includes two through composed pieces by Bancroft plus an interesting selection of outside material by Charles Mingus, George Gershwin and the late Thomas Chapin. There are also five pieces credited to Trio Red, which I assume have evolved directly as the result of collective improvisations.

The album commences with Bancroft’s composition “Saturday Afternoon (with Sophie)”, written twenty years ago and a dedication to his then young stepdaughter “Wee Sophie”. The tune was played by Bancroft’s big band around the time it was written and proved to be a popular item among audiences, so much so that one couple, fans of Bancroft’s music, named their own daughter Sophie after hearing the tune at a gig!
Bancroft’s album notes go on to explain something about the tune itself which “tries to capture the joyfulness of spending an afternoon with her when she was about three and also tries to capture her lovely bonkers side. She is still great fun to hang out with”. There’s certainly a child like joy about the music with its catchy riffs and melodies while the sometimes abrupt changes of mood, style and pace express something of the capriciousness of a child’s emotions. But of course there’s also a good deal of sophistication about the writing and Cawley is in particularly scintillating form as the trio explore a variety of musical styles as the tune meanders through its various phases. Zanussi also features strongly with a couple of engaging bass cameos while Bancroft subtly shapes the direction of the music from behind the kit. 

“Lift Off” was written by the late saxophonist and composer Thomas Chapin (1957 -98) who had been a prominent figure on the New York jazz scene. Bancroft’s notes explain that when he first visited New York he was lucky enough to see Chapin play. More recently he approached Chapin’s family to ask their permission to record this composition and received a very positive response.  The tune itself is a sturdy slice of post bop which begins with a lively, highly rhythmic, unison riff which the trio use as the jumping off point for some ebullient and invigorating improvising with Cawley again dazzling at the keyboard. There’s also an effervescent drum feature from Bancroft who also delights in the art of dropping rhythmic ‘bombs’ elsewhere in the piece. The piece resolves itself with a restatement of Chapin’s complex but arresting theme.  It’s a thrillingly exuberant performance that captures the sound of a band having fun but also honours the music and spirit of Thomas Chapin in a positive and uplifting manner.

“Hint Of Wood” is the first piece to be credited to ‘Trio Red’ and is a compelling rhythmic mosaic featuring drums, bass and the sound of dampened piano strings. Cawley occasionally introduces a more conventional piano tone but essentially this piece is about rhythm and the fascinating uses to which it can be put.

Also credited to the trio is “Howdy Doody”, a more impressionistic piece of improvising with Bancroft conjuring an impressive range of sounds from his kit as the trio build from simple, tentative beginnings, feeling their way and gradually developing something deeper, more urgent and more complex. One can almost hear the band thinking, there’s a palpable sense of the trio mapping out their territory as the music evolves and progresses. There’s also the sense that this is a trio of equals which each member helping to shape the direction of the music.

Brian Morton’s liner notes suggest that the covers were chosen because of the trio member’s shared love of the composers in question. Following their vibrant interpretation of Chapin’s Coleman and McLean inspired post bop we now get Charles Mingus’ “Jump Monk”, which sounds relatively conventional when compared to some of the music we have heard before. Nevertheless it’s zestily performed with all the warmth and wit we’ve come to expect from Trio Red. Cawley is especially effusive, the ideas just seem to flow out of him, and Zanussi also impresses with a highly agile solo. There are also a series of colourful drum breaks from the consistently inventive Bancroft.

The wonderfully titled “Mr McFat Puts On His Socks” is the next of the improvised pieces and presents the trio improvising playfully around Cawley’s opening piano motif. Again there’s a sense of a genuine three way discussion evolving with the lead changing hands several times during the course of the piece. There’s also a strong melodic focus throughout - as the humorous title suggests this is isn’t the type of improv that seeks to alienate the listener. Bancroft has spoken of Cawley’s gift for melody and marvelled at how some of these wholly improvised pieces end up sounding like fully fledged compositions thanks to Cawley’s instinctive melodic sensibilities. 

“Fifty Ways Our Love Is Here To Stay Porgy” is a clever merger of Paul Simon and George Gershwin, this time performed with a great deal more sensitivity than the jokey title might suggest.
It’s a brief but beautiful ballad performance with Bancroft showing his sensitive side with a delightfully delicate performance with the brushes as he accompanies Zanussi’s deeply resonant but melodic bass and Cawley’s thoughtful piano chording.

Taking its cue from Bancroft’s solo drum opening “Monsieur Pompouse Takes A Stroll” is the next improvised piece, another three way discussion, this time with Zanussi’s voice playing a key role. There’s a pleasing quirkiness about the piece that is very Tom Bancroft, very Trio Red.

Arguably the most distinctive track on the album is the final improvised piece “Acoustica Electronica”. Here dampened piano strings and arco bass stabs and drones allied to Bancroft’s brushed drum grooves approximate something of the ambience of electronic and dance music. Like its companion improvised pieces it’s highly effective and oddly compulsive.

The final piece on the album is Bancroft’s three part title track which was written for a 1997 performance in Tbilisi with the Georgian National Big Band. Written in the aftermath of the civil war in Georgia the piece is intended to represent the experience of “going through a war and coming out the other side”. Given the subject matter of the piece it’s perhaps not so surprising that this is the most ‘serious’ performances on the album. The opening ‘movement’ “Song” features nostalgically lyrical folk like melodic motifs with Zanussi’s bass prominent in the arrangement. Part ii “War” features low end piano rumblings, grainy arco bass and the rustle and rattle of Bancroft’s cymbals as the trio deploy a wilful dissonance to portray the horrors of war. Even when played by the trio it’s a powerful, dramatic and unsettling listening experience, the big band version must have been quite something. A passage of unaccompanied pizzicato bass, initially hesitant, but subsequently more melodic and assured leads to the third movement. Titled “Re-Birth” this revisits the folk melodies of the first movement and depicts them in an increasingly joyous and exultant new light as Cawley’s piano takes flight. It’s an impressive, dramatic, and ultimately uplifting end to a highly commendable second album from Trio Red. 

Almost inevitably this second Trio Red recording can’t make quite the same impact as the début but “Lucid Dreamers” is still a highly rewarding listen which combines a variety of musical styles and techniques within a trio framework and reveals the band to be still developing while building up an increasingly impressive level of mutual rapport. Everybody plays well with Bancroft’s writing and personality subtly dictating the direction of the music.

It’s good too, to hear Cawley again after what feels to be a long absence from the jazz world, his own much loved Curios trio seems to be sadly defunct and I suspect that other areas of music (he’s done a stint as Peter Gabriel’s pianist and MD) may be taking up more of his time these days.  Perhaps somebody can enlighten me. Either way its good to have him back.

blog comments powered by Disqus