by Ian Mann
February 08, 2017
Bright, melodic, rhythmic, intelligent and accessible, 2017 continues to find the band in rude creative health and still producing exciting and stimulating music.
(Challenge Records CR73439)
Released on February 10th 2017 but currently available as a pre-order from Amazon “KNOWN-UNKNOWN” is the latest album from the Brisbane based piano trio Trichotomy. It represents the fifth album from the group and is their first release on the Netherlands based Challenge Records imprint following a lengthy stint with the British label Naim which yielded the albums “Variations” (2010), The Gentle War” (2011) and Fact Finding Mission” (2013).
The trio’s previous albums have included contributions from guest musicians with the sounds of reeds and guitar sometimes being added to the core line up and in 2014 the group took this a stage further on the album “Healthy”, a joint collaboration with the Australian contemporary classical ensemble Topology. More recently Trichotomy have continued to work with classical musicians and have performed with the Southern Cross Soloists, Collusion, Lunarie Collective and the Queensland Symphony Orchestra. Meanwhile the group’s prolific pianist Sean Foran has released a solo album, the excellent “Frame of Reference” (2016), a quintet offering featuring the UK based musicians Julian Arguelles (saxophones), Ben Davis (cello), Stuart McCallum (guitar) and Joost Hendrickx (drums). Trichotomy have strong links to the British jazz scene due to Foran’s studies at Leeds College of Music where his contemporaries included guitarist Chris Sharkey and bassist Dave Kane. The trio have toured frequently in the UK, last visiting in 2013.
Trichotomy are not a band to stand still and their career path has been one of consistent artistic progression with each album offering something different to the last. In a sense “KNOWN-UNKNOWN” represents something of a return to basics as it features the sounds of the trio members only - no guests, no orchestras. Nevertheless it showcases a band that is still evolving with new bassist Samuel Vincent taking over from the long serving Pat Marchisella and with all three musicians adding live electronics to their musical arsenal as the trio continue their experiments in this field. Vincent also brings an additional compositional presence to the band, the writing duties having previously been divided between Foran and drummer John Parker.
The trio explain the concept behind the album title thus;
“It is a representation of the push and pull within improvised music. The known elements such as written melodies, harmonies and rhythms are combined with the unknown moments – the collective improvised experience, the dynamic and textural changes that happen in the moment and the collective emergent sound created for this precise time only. For us the Known and Unknown is the beauty, exhilaration and energy of the music. The music cannot exist without both, and both must remain within balance”.
Recorded in Brisbane over the course of five days in June 2016 the album features ten new compositions, some of which had already been performed live and shaped in that environment, and others written specifically for the project. The lion’s share of the writing credits go to the indefatigable Foran with six pieces. Meanwhile Parker contributes three tunes and Vincent makes his compositional début with “Past Tense”.
The album commences with Foran’s tune “Five”, a good introduction to the Trichotomy sound with its lithe melodies, and taut, contemporary, hip hop influenced grooves. With Vincent on board they remain a tight and cohesive unit and the new boy also makes his mark as a soloist with a concise feature that highlights both his resonant tone and his melodic sensibility. Parker also comes to the fore as he undertakes an inventive and energetic tour of the drum kit underpinned by an insistent piano vamp.
Both Parker and Foran have studied cinematic composition and the drummer is a surprisingly melodic writer. His piece, “Cells”, has a strong narrative arc but also maintains the tension inherent in the album title as a freely structured central section featuring the composer’s dialogue with Foran’s piano bisects the more obviously through composed passages.
Foran’s “Junk” deploys fragmented rhythms but still maintains a strong melodic focus and an admirable energy. It’s sometimes tempting to compare Trichotomy with E.S.T., surely an influence, but that would be invidious. The Australian trio have developed a sound that is very much their own, inspired as much by American as European influences.
Over the years Trichotomy have demonstrated their way with a tune and a groove and even at their most experimental remain eminently accessible as Foran’s riff driven, highly rhythmic “Imaginary Limits” demonstrates with its distorted piano sounds accompanied by busy, street smart bass and drum grooves. It’s probably fair to say that fans of the young, contemporary British trios Gogo Penguin and Mammal Hands will find much to enjoy in Trichotomy’s music.
Vincent makes his writing début with the impressive “Past Tense” which combines an arresting melody with the melancholy timbres of the composer’s bowed bass to compelling and ultimately dramatic effect. One would suspect that it’s likely to become a stand-out moment at the trio’s live shows. Like that of his colleagues Vincent’s writing exhibits a strong narrative and cinematic quality and his writing skills look set to add an extra dimension to the band.
Foran’s “Asset Or Liability” exhibits a more muscular side of the trio, one that has evoked comparisons with The Bad Plus, but a strong melodic focus remains alongside the busy rhythms and periodically distorted piano sounds on a piece that offers something of a showcase for Parker’s percussive skills.
By way of contrast the drummer’s own “It’s Strange Coming Back” is a contemporary ballad with a chillingly beautiful melody. It’s the prettiest, most straightforward tune on the album and allows us to appreciate Parker’s capabilities as a colourist as Foran’s thoughtful and lyrical piano carries the tune. Vincent also impresses with the sensitivity of his pizzicato bass playing.
Also by Parker “Reverie Of Lack” emphasises his versatility as a composer as the trio take a diversion into electronic territory with a mix of electric and acoustic keyboard sounds and a greater reliance on repeated motifs, pulses and rhythms that suggests the influence of Steve Reich, Terry Riley and the minimalists. However melody and narrative are not forgotten and the trio make the piece very much their own in a manner that is sometimes dramatic, and unfailingly impressive.
The trio’s label cite Aphex Twin as one of a broad range of influences and Foran’s hypnotic “Semi Quasars” sees the group exploring the area of “acoustic electronica” mined by GoGo Penguin. Paradoxically the frenzied, energetic, interlocking rhythms also give scope for considerable improvisational freedom and this promises to become a fascinating item in live performance.
Also by Foran the closing “Hemmingways” combines a strong melodicism, redolent of Pat Metheny, with spacey, atmospheric electronic effects as the trio make judicious use of the technology available to them. Occasionally Vincent and Parker take the lead and overall its the sheer loveliness of the tune, particularly when picked out on Vincent’s bass, that stays longest in the melody. A delightful way to end an album that shows Trichotomy maintaining the high standards they have previously set for themselves.
Bright, melodic, rhythmic, intelligent and accessible “KNOWN-UNKNOWN” is an album capable of appealing to a wide audience, including adventurous rock listeners who may already be attuned to the likes of E.S.T., The Bad Plus, Neil Cowley Trio, Phronesis and Gogo Penguin, and maybe Polar Bear and Led Bib too.
But there’s also enough rigour, sophistication and melodic and rhythmic inventiveness to maintain the attention of more hard core jazz listeners as Trichotomy live out the concept behind the title, striking a perfect balance in the process.
I’ve been a big fan of Trichotomy’s music since 2010 when I first heard the “Variations” album and have been lucky enough to review the group in performance on three occasions, most recently in 2013. It’s good to see that 2017 continues to find the band in rude creative health and still producing exciting and stimulating music. They are currently on tour in Europe and the UK with two British dates remaining;
08/02/2017 – The Jazz Bar, Edinburgh
10/02/2017 – Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, Cardiff
I’m still intending to catch them at the latter.
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