Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019




by Ian Mann

January 25, 2010


This Australian contemporary piano trio transcend the sum of their many influences to come up with a powerful statement of their own.

The list of influences mentioned in the press release for this Australian piano trio’s latest offering is a veritable who’s who of fashionable rock and jazz names. Fellow Aussies The Necks are mentioned as an early influence and others include E.S.T. , Tord Gustavsen, Vijay Iyer, Brad Mehldau and Pat Metheny. And that’s just the jazz side, the rock guys include Radiohead, Aphex Twin and Tortoise with The Bad Plus straddling the ground in the middle. Finally, to ensure that the classical side of things isn’t overlooked there’s Igor Stravinsky.

But there is much more to Trichotomy than just playing “spot the influence”. The trio have been together for ten years having originally met at the Queensland Conservatorium. “Variations”, released on the Naim label, is their third album but the first to gain an international release. It’s a wide ranging record that is certainly influenced by some of the figures named above but one in which the group also establishes it’s own identity in a varied but consistently interesting programme.

The composing credits for the ten original tracks are split pretty much equally between pianist Sean Foran and drummer John Parker. The closing “Labyrinth” is described as a group improvisation with bassist Pat Marchisella sharing the writing credit with his colleagues. In addition to the three core musicians there are also some well chosen contributions from a number of guests but we’ll come to those later.

Trichotomy have taken on board most of the developments in contemporary piano jazz over the last decade or so. Despite their Antipodean origins much of this music has a very modern European feel with perhaps E.S.T. and Tord Gustavsen the most obvious influences to these ears.

“Variations” opens in lively fashion with Foran’s “Island Of The Sun”. Parker sets up a contemporary E.S.T. style groove which proves the perfect foil for Foran’s piano as he alternates between darting runs and more gentle, ruminative passages. Marchisella demonstrates his abilities with a stunning solo combining an enormous tone and astonishing technique.

If the spirited opener recalls E.S.T. or The Bad Plus the following “At The Right Moment”, also from the pen of Foran, is closer to Tord Gustavsen’s more minimalist approach. Lyrical and almost hymnal this is a beautiful ballad that builds it’s variations slowly and carefully, developing the theme but diverting into more abstract musings in the tune’s middle passages. These first two pieces are a good calling card in the way that they set the trio’s stall out and establish the dynamic range and subtlety they are capable of . “Variations” is an apt title in respect of both the changes that take place within individual tunes and across the album as a whole.

“Branching Out” the third piece in Foran’s opening salvo synthesises this approach as passages of lyrical melody combine with rhythmic grooves in a typically shifting composition. The interaction between the three players is intuitive and consistently eloquent, fully justifying the choice of a collective group name rather than “so and so’s trio”. 

Parker takes over the compositional reins for “Start” which incorporates additional instrumentation in the form of Christa Powell (violin), Bernard Hoey (viola) and John Babbage (alto sax). The strings bring a modern classical feel to the piece and at times handle the melody lines. The core group add rhythmic impetus, there are hints of Steve Reich at times, and the dense ensemble passages contrast well with a brooding, freer, abstract central section. Foran makes judicious use of dampened strings to increase the atmosphere and the whole piece is constantly unfolding and totally engrossing.

It’s back to Foran for the tender ballad “Ascent” which includes the melancholy trumpet sound of guest Peter Knight who evokes memories of late period Miles Davis plus the more contemporary European figures Arve Henriksen and Nils Petter Molvaer. The subliminal electronics of Lawrence English also add to the pensive atmosphere.

Next up come a trio of compositions from the excellent Parker. I guess “Variations On A Bad Day” is, by implication, the album’s title track. It moves from single note piano phrases to full on polyrhythmic wig out in the blink of an eye. Foran’s sometimes thunderous left hand figures are complemented by Marchisella’s electronically distorted bass but the piece has it’s lyrical moments too. It’s a good summation of the restless inventiveness of the whole album.

The electronic ante is upped even further on the mighty “Crunch” where Marchisella comes across as a more demented version of E.S.T’s Dan Berglund. Interestingly E.S.T’s final studio album “Leucocyte” was recorded in Sydney before being mixed in Sweden. Comparisons have also been made between this track and the music of Acoustic Ladyland but to my mind it’s more similar in flavour to the recent Bojan Z/Tetraband album “Humus”.

“Please” represents the other side of Parker’s writing, a fragile spacey ballad that demonstrates the group’s ability to switch from the loudest of the loud to the quietest of the quiet. 

Foran’s “The Unknown” is yet another piece of imaginative writing with passages of fragmented, staccato rhythms vying with an underlying lyricism. There is something of the challenging knottiness of Vijay Iyer in Foran’s writing here and Parker gives an inspired performance, deploying the whole range of his kit in something of an extended drum feature. There is also a passage of hand clapped rhythms which adds extra colour to an already dazzling mix.

To close the spooky, improvised “Labyrinth” features dampened piano strings, skittering percussion and eerie high register arco bass. It’s highly atmospheric and combines improvisation with the alt rock feel of Radiohead and Tortoise.

“Variations” is an album full of imaginative writing and brilliant, intuitive playing. Foran and Parker try to do something different with every track and both are full of interesting, colourful ideas with Parker marginally the more experimental of the two. This is frequently complex music but it’s not in any way difficult and the many fans of E.S.T. should find plenty to enjoy here. Despite the multiplicity of acknowledged influences on view the skill of the band’s two writers ensures that Trichotomy has a strong identity of it’s own. This is a group that transcends the sum of it’s influences to come up with a powerful individual statement . “Variations” is an album that deserves to establish Trichotomy on the world stage.

Trichotomy are about to embark on a tour that covers most regions of the UK. Dates can be found at

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