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Trichotomy at Cafe Jazz, Cardiff, 24/02/2011

by Ian Mann

February 25, 2011


The Australian threesome have developed a sound of their own that demands they be ranked in the leading echelon of contemporary jazz piano trios.


Café Jazz, Cardiff, 24/02/2011

The penultimate date of the second British tour by the Australian trio Trichotomy saw them draw a large crowd to Cardiff’s Café Jazz for an evening of excellent contemporary piano jazz. The trio were touring in support of their second international release “The Gentle War” (Naim Records) and having gained something of a foothold in the UK approximately a year ago with their previous album “Variations” there was definitely a bigger buzz about the group this time round. In the main the current tour has taken place in front of large and appreciative audiences (only the Birmingham date was something of a disappointment) and Cardiff was no exception. This was one of the largest and most attentive crowds I’ve seen at the Café for quite some time with prominent local musicians such as trombonist Gareth Roberts and guitarist James Chadwick checking the Aussie boys out. 

Formed at Brisbane Conservatorium the musicians of Trichotomy have been working together for over ten years and have developed an individual group sound that transcends their many influences.
Pianist Sean Foran and drummer John Parker are the group’s principal composers but double bassist Pat Marchisella also makes a huge contribution to a band sound that is centred around intensive musical dialogue and a high level of group interaction.

I first saw Trichotomy perform live in Stratford Upon Avon as part of the “Variations” tour in early 2010. On that occasion the absence of a grand piano led to Foran deploying an electric keyboard with the inevitable loss of nuance and sound quality. Even though that was an enjoyable occasion the knowledge that there was a proper acoustic grand piano at Cardiff ensured that the Café was my venue of choice this time round. 

Although the tour is nominally in support of ” The Gentle War” Trichotomy are one of those groups who are always one step ahead of the latest album (as is always the best way) and their set consisted of several pieces of as yet unrecorded material alongside selections from “The Gentle War” plus one piece from “Variations”.

The trip opened with a new and as yet undocumented piece, building from a bass and drum intro through a passage for solo piano to a typically engrossing three-way conversation. Trichotomy often encompass a broad dynamic range within the course of a single tune and this was a case in point with Parker’s drumming varying between the delicate and the brutal. Marchisella is a monster bassist with a huge tone and seemingly prehensile fingers. The piece culminated with the first of a series of show stealing bass solos.

Foran explained that he and Parker had been on a film clip course, composing music to accompany snippets of celluloid action. “Chase”, the opening track on “The Gentle War” developed as a result of these sessions and the piece certainly certainly reflected it’s origins, opening with a passage of solo piano before moving up through the gears and hitting something of an E.S.T. style groove whilst incorporating another strong solo statement from Marchisella.

However it was with Parker’s tune “Cute” that the trio really hit their stride. Dedicated to Parker’s young son the piece has been in the group’s live repertoire for quite some time. It’s as playful as the title and inspiration might suggest with an instantly catchy melody line. The trio had great fun with this piece, sudden squalls of dissonance approximated fits of infant temper and provided jumping off points for solo features for bass, piano and drums.

Also sourced from the film writing course “Tailgater” continued the car theme with its chunky, angular grooves. The piece also signalled Marchisella’s first use of his distortion pedal, conjuring up an angry, fuzz laden snarl from his bass. It was a technique he was to deploy, judiciously, later in the evening and clearly owed something to the methods of E.S.T.‘s Dan Berglund.

After the sound and fury of much of the set the trio concluded the first half in more impressionistic mood with Foran’s “Not According To Plan”, the concluding track on the current album. His stately solo piano intro and Parker’s painterly use of soft head sticks on a variety of cymbals was totally engrossing as the group demonstrated an admirable degree of subtlety. A rapt audience was spellbound, it’s a rarity for the Café to fall completely silent during a performance but Trichotomy managed it. This was an excellent end to an enthralling first half that had steadily grown in authority.

The second set opened with “Wrestle” ,also from “The Gentle War”, which developed from Foran’s solo introductory piano into the kind of rigorous three way musical discussion suggested by the title. Yet however far the trio pushed the boundaries an underlying sense of melody and groove was always apparent.

Parker’s “Shut Up” is an instrumental tirade against the banalities of modern reality TV and the live version again saw Marchisella activating the distortion pedal on his bass. But contrast is central to the Trichotomy aesthetic and the anger was tempered by episodes of almost hymnal calm.

“The Gentle War” itself proved to be a serpentine exploration, full of thoughtful piano and drum dialogue with Parker again demonstrating an exquisite touch at the cymbals. Marchisella’s lengthy solo was his best of the set, a stunning demonstration of physical resourcefulness that encompassed all the techniques of the bass player’s art. He conjured a remarkable array of sounds from his instrument, but without at any point resorting to the use of effects or electronica.

From “Variations” Parker’s ballad “Please” was effectively an encore, a piece of wispy ECM inspired impressionism that closed the evening on an elegiac note and evoked the spirit of Tord Gustavsen, one of Trichotomy’s many acknowledged influences.

Trichotomy may draw inspiration from a wide range of American and European sources from jazz to modern classical but they have developed a sound of their own that demands they be ranked in the leading echelon of contemporary jazz piano trios. They take a palpable delight in their music making and their enthusiasm rubs off on their steadily growing audiences. Trichotomy’s music takes chances but still retains an innate accessibility based on strong writing that features catchy melodic hooks and powerful grooves. This Australian trio is a real team and should be around for a while yet. Many UK listeners will be looking forward to early 2012 and the prospect of another Trichotomy album and tour.


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