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by Ian Mann

November 11, 2011

/ EP

Ian Mann loves trioVD's new EP but hates the inspiration behind it.



(Naim Edge Naimcd159)

The hard hitting jazz power trio of Chris Sharkey (guitar), Christophe de Bezenac (alto sax) and Chris Bussey (drums) made a big impression with their début album “Fill It Up with Ghosts”, a recording that won Mojo magazine’s award for best jazz album of 2009. The Mojo award perhaps gives some indication as to the group’s rock leanings, they’re loud, brash and heavily amplified but, thanks to their commitment to improvisation retain a jazz soul. Despite their undoubted appeal to discerning rock listeners they’re probably too uncompromising to ever become mainstream. Here at the Jazzmann we rather like them with Tim Owen’s reviews of “Fill It Up with Ghosts” and of a later live performance at London’s Vortex appearing elsewhere on this site. Meanwhile I enjoyed their late night set at the 2010 Cheltenham Jazz Festival and my thoughts on that appearance can be found in our festival coverage in the features section.

trio VD emerged from the Leeds improvised music scene before going on to make an impression on the national stage. Due in part to guitarist Chris Sharkey’s parallel engagement with Acoustic Ladyland things have gone a bit quiet (not a word I thought I’d ever associate with trioVD) on the trio front lately and this new EP comes as a very welcome reminder of the band’s continued existence and finds them in rude musical health.

In typically provocative fashion trioVD have named this latest release “X”, the four titles inspired by the identities of the judges on The X Factor television programme. It’s a matter of pride to me that I’ve never watched a single episode of the show (or of “Strictly” for that matter) but such is the hold of these programmes over our culture that even I know roughly who these people are. To me it’s all a regression to the type of television my parents used to watch, the kind of thing that rock and other alternative musics were supposed to have done away with. And yet it’s back and bigger than ever but with an element of emotional cruelty and manipulation that is sadly very contemporary. I hate it - but then I seem to be increasingly out of step with popular culture in general. It’s probably my age, I was brought up with prog and punk and the musical tribalism and snobberies that came with them before moving on to the even less commercial delights of jazz. Once you’ve come this far there’s no going back, hence my evangelism for non mainstream music and jazz in particular. It’s almost a lifestyle choice and it’s one that leaves me increasingly disillusioned with popular culture as a whole. Yeah, you’re right I’m just a miserable old git.   

Meanwhile Chris Sharkey insists “Our intention here is not to mock this programme, the judges, and, most importantly, the brave souls that enter this coliseum of popular culture. It is a musical response to the show. Some people vote. We make music”. And rather splendid music it is too. I’m rather partial to trioVD’s excoriating brand of intelligent jazz skronk.

Opener “Tulisa” crams an awful lot of information into it’s three and a half or so minutes (didn’t somebody once say that was the perfect length for a single). The press release describes this as “blundering thrash metal” but besides the bludgeoning, super fast riffs there are snatches of sampled voices and other electronica. It’s thrilling and visceral with Sharkey’s scratchy guitars, de Bezenac’s bellicose alto and Bussey’s hyper kinetic drumming combine with these additional elements to deliver trioVD’s archetypal barrage of sound.

“Walsh” is described as “a Celtic jig on steroids come pseudo power ballad” and while these elements may have provided some kind of inspiration the results are still very trioVD. De Bezenac plays it pretty much straight for much of the time, almost exaggeratedly so as his alto soars and wails, but the recurrent use of voices, a development that started on “Fill It Up with Ghosts”, plus Bussey’s unquenchable fire keeps the music suitably urgent and edgy.

That urgency and edginess is even more apparent on the stuttering, restlessly shifting “Barlow” which incorporates some of the trio’s most killer riffs, alternating them with more impressionistic episodes. A combination of “90’s pop peaks and monotone slumps” as the press release has it, or perhaps the classic quiet/loud grunge dynamic. Gary Barlow and grunge? It could only happen here.

The closing “Kelly” opens up new avenues for the band to explore with a chilled out trip hop vibe representing their deepest excursion yet into the world of sampling and electronica. A slow-burner of a tune it gradually builds in intensity as spiralling saxophone and guitar lines intertwine above a combination of an electronic soundwashes and Bussey’s sturdy drumming. It’s back to that “pseudo power ballad” syndrome again.

“X” shows trioD making clear progress as they expand their sound without sacrificing their trademark intensity. Hopefully it will act as a highly promising precursor for their keenly anticipated second album but it is an essential listen in its own right. The EP also throws up a number of interesting philosophical questions regarding music, culture and commercialism. The day that trioVD appear on the X Factor themselves will be the day I start tuning in. Let’s face it, it ain’t ever going to happen. Is it?

Well that’s what I think. These are the band’s comments on the four pieces, they make for fascinating reading;

More about ?X’ from trioVD themselves?
A twisted homage to the new queen of X Factor mania. We immersed ourselves in Tulisa’s music then largely ignored it, choosing to cherry pick vocal inflections, lyrical themes, mysterious church bells and essentially mess around with the wonderful, percussive rhythm of her name. Every rhythm in the song is derived from her 7 syllable tongue-twister. This is classic trioVD territory and we’re already having tons of fun playing this live.
Opening with a warped Irish jig in 15/8 with impassioned subtle boyzone/westlife-isms, Walsh soon transmogrifies into an improvised, power-ballad saxophone showcase that draws its inspiration from the one or two thousand ballads the aforementioned have racked up over the years. We left out the obligatory key change at the end but I promise that we spontaneously stood up from our stools and walked to the front of the stage at the end of this recording.
We took the famous cliché ?Everything Changes But You’ and applied it literally to a musical idea. What if everything changed all the time? Well, you get something like this. Everything is linked and locked in but constantly moving. Barlow’s deadpan delivery can be spotted towards the climax of the tune.
We found an a cappella of Ms Rowland, chopped it up and used it as a central device around which we improvised an original track. This was the first take!

There is also a stunning video for “Tulisa” which can be found at;
(beware of flashing images!)


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