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Trichotomy, Caf? Jazz, Cardiff, 10/02/2013.

by Ian Mann

February 14, 2013


Pianist Sean Foran, drummer John Parker and bassist Pat Marchisella remain a fiercely interactive unit of ten years standing who can still really cut the mustard live.

Trichotomy, Café Jazz, Cardiff, 10/02/2013.

Australian piano trio Trichotomy made a welcome return to this venue in the Welsh capital as part of a national tour in support of their splendid new album “Fact Finding Mission” (reviewed elsewhere on this site). The band last visited the UK in 2011 and I was lucky enough to witness and report on their excellent show at this same venue.

Fast forward two years and the trio are playing than ever. The new album, their third international release on the UK based Naim label, is their strongest offering yet with a number of guest musicians including the excellent guitarist James Muller providing imaginative additional elements to the group sound. However this is not to detract from the excellence of the core trio, pianist Sean Foran, drummer John Parker and bassist Pat Marchisella remain a fiercely interactive unit of ten years standing who can still really cut the mustard live. 

It was a relaxed Trichotomy that breezed into Cardiff in the wake of a raft of positive reviews for the new album (John Fordham of The Guardian loved it and even covered their London show at the famed Pizza Express Jazz Club) and a string of hugely successful live appearances. The buzz about the trio seems to grow with each visit, the band usually come to the UK in our winter, which may seem strange but may say something about the ferocious heat of summers in Australia! In any event the band were in a highly talkative mood, Foran and Parker shared the announcing duties and I’ve never known them to be quite so loquacious as they cracked jokes and told stories about life on the road. However for all the informality of the presentation the music itself was absolutely terrific, mainly sourced from “Fact Finding Mission” but also revisiting their 2010 album “The Gentle War” as well as including a number of new, as yet unreleased tunes.

They began with Foran’s tune “Bell”, a piece recorded at the “Fact Finding Mission” sessions that somehow didn’t find its way onto the album. A gently ruminative solo piano intro gradually developed into a gentle groove propelled by the swish of Parker’s brushes as Foran stretched out further with a wide ranging solo that never entirely abandoned the tune’s inherent lyricism. The pianist was in particularly fine form this evening, this was the third time I’d seen the trio over the last few years but Foran’s contribution was his strongest yet.

“Strom”, the opening cut from the new album was more obviously groove orientated with the group nodding in the direction of e.s.t. , one of their many diverse influences. Here Marchisella delivered the first of several telling solos in a piece that embraced several changes in mood and direction, a mirroring of the meaning of the title “stream, current or flow”.

As impressive as these opening two pieces were it was the two quieter numbers that followed that really captured the attention of the sizeable Cardiff audience. Parker’s “Lullaby”, a delightful dedication to his two young sons, made use of space and stillness in the ECM tradition with the composer’s delicate percussion shadings, made with either brushes or mallets, particularly sublime. Even the audience in the restaurant section were as quiet as church mice as this wonderfully pellucid music hung in the air. Background noise has been a problem at the Café in the past (I remember pianist Tom Cawley’s Curios trio suffering particularly badly) but such was the beauty of this performance that you could hear the proverbial pin drop. Very impressive, especially so as the trio repeated the trick on the rather more abstract ballad “Not According To Plan” sourced from previous album “The Gentle War”. Marchisella’s deeply lyrical solo was a particular highlight and the piece also featured Parker playing the small South Indian frame drum the kanjira for the first time. 

A well calibrated first set with “Fact Finding Mission” itself, Parker’s tune bringing about a sudden shift in dynamics. On record the piece packs a mighty wallop with the sampled voices of various US presidents, among them Richard Nixon and George W. Bush very successfully integrated into the music - so successfully in fact that the piece almost seemed incomplete here, I never thought I’d hear myself saying that I missed George W. Bush! Musically the piece still bristled with menace courtesy of Foran’s ominous left hand rumbles and Marchisella’s use of extended bass techniques ranging from slapping the body of the instrument to create an auxiliary item of percussion to switching on his distortion pedal for a fuzzed up solo that made extensive and dramatic use of the bow.

The second set mirrored the first by commencing with another as yet unrecorded piece, Foran’s “Interlude No. 3” which ebbed and flowed in the best Trichotomy tradition ranging from the reflective and lyrical to full on grooving.

From “The Gentle War” came “Chase” inspired by a film writing course that Foran and Parker once attended with the music originally being composed to accompany a car chase sequence. After a gentle piano intro the music quickly raced up through the gears with Foran dampening the strings as the trio hit an accelerating groove. Following Marchisella’s plucked bass feature Foran’s second passage of solo piano was far more choppy and percussive. Parker again made use of the kanjira, sometimes known as the “Indian tambourine”. On the “fact Finding Mission” album the instrument is played by guest percussionist Tunji Beier and Parker was obviously keen to deploy the instrument in a live context.

I always thought that “The Brook” was a strange title for such a rhythmically based tune. It turns out Foran’s composition from the new album is not named for a quietly flowing stream but for an Aussie drinking establishment. The piece begins with a clapped introduction (shades of Pat Metheny’s “First Circle”) and incorporates powerful grooves that fuel powerful solos from Foran and Marchisella, the bassist hitting the distortion pedal again for his pizzicato solo.

Trichotomy visited Japan for a concert tour surely after the tsunami and in deference to their hosts arranged a number of Japanese folk tunes for the piano/bass/drums format. None of these have been officially recorded but the band still clearly enjoy playing them. The “ballad” slot in this second set was filled by a lovely tune that translated as “My Home Town” with a gorgeous folk melody that drew some of the most lyrical playing of the night from Foran and a plucked bass solo of deep resonance and beauty from Marchisella.

The evening concluded with “The Blank Canvas”, a Foran composition that is spread over two tracks on the “Fact Finding Mission” album but which appeared here to be played as a single entity linked by a passage of solo piano. The first section featured an impressive solo drum feature from Parker with the trio using the concluding segment as another masterful demonstration of their way with a groove.

Sadly there was to be no encore but the Cardiff audience had clearly loved what they had heard. Once again the audience featured a number of local musical luminaries, pianist Paul Jones was hugely impressed and drummer Mark O’ Connor had lent Parker a vital hi hat related item of kit.

This had been impressive enough but the final two dates of the tour in Leeds and Manchester promise to be something special when Manchester based guitarist Stuart McCallum joins the band as a guest. 

And yes, the eagle eyed among you may have spotted that this was my second gig of the day following Gilad Atzmon’s performance earlier in the day at Abergavenny. What a day of music, festivals aside it doesn’t come much better than this. 

Remaining tour dates;

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

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