John Hébert Trio

Clean Feed CF 290 CD

The Tim Daisy Trio

A Fine Day in Berlin

Relay Recordings 006

Compositional focus or pure improv, emblematic Jazz piano trios with bass and drums can be envisioned in accordance with the tendencies of the participants. These sessions, recorded about one month apart in different European countries, instructively outline these differences. Interestingly enough as well, although the piano is the main melody instrument on both, neither session is lead by a pianist. The second outing for a group consisting of French pianist Benoît Delbecq plus New Yorkers, drummer Gerald Cleaver and bassist John Hébert, Floodstage mostly highlight the compositions of the New Orleans-born bassist. A true international configuration, A Fine Day in Berlin’s four extended track resulted from a day of collaboration between American drummer Tim Daisy, Norwegian pianist Håvard Wiik and Australian bassist Clayton Thomas.

Although Cajun enough to preserve the accent (é) in his last name, Hébert’s compositions may have faint Louisiana references, but are in no way slavish recreation of Big Easy-styled R&B, Zydeco or Classic Jazz. Hébert after all usually plays with the likes of Downtown New York modernists such as guitarist Mary Halvorson. Cleaver and Delbecq are similarly versatile enough to work with everyone from Parker (Evan) to Parker (William). Consequently a tune such as “Red House in NOLA”, while mellow, is also urbane enough to be lean towards the future, not the past. Performing parallel counterpoint, and staying out of each other’s way, Delbecq supplies the keyboard color as Hébert opens up the piece with emphasized plucks and stops.

In a similar fashion, “Just a Closer Walk with Thee”, a long-time Dixieland favorite, is played with more rhythm than reverence, with Delbecq producing Blues keyboard variations and thumping away thickly as Cleaver vibrates the backbeat. Symbolically, just as the pianist recalls New Orleans past as a French colony, Cleaver’s multi-stylistic rhythmic command arrives in some way from the city’s legion of famous drummers who spreads the music northwards. Overall however, New Orleans variations can’t be avoided completely. With the final “On the Half Shell”, the pianist uses his analog synthesizer to create penny-whistle like marching band sweeps that complement his trolling keyboard cadenzas, Cleaver rolls and pops his kit underneath, and at one point the bassist and pianist nearly sound like they’re working out a variant of “Iko Iko”.

Pointedly in contrast though, Delbecq’s use of processed electronics and a synthesizer confirm the trio’s modernity, as do the sophisticated contemporary playing patterns from Hébert and Cleaver. With such a carefully synced 11-track program though, only a few instances of extended technique come to the forefront, since the three concentrate on presenting their own variant(s) on the mainstream tradition. Nowhere is this better expressed than on Hébert’s “Holy Trinity”. With a lively, almost dancing interface, the bassist’s vertical sweeps, Cleaver’s drum breaks and the pianist’s spacing and elaboration, virtually define the 21st century piano-bass-drum trio.

An equivalently valid definition arriving from an opposing direction, is provided by the Daisy trio. With the pianist’s and drummer’s intersection via the different bands of reedist Ken Vandermark; and with the then Berlin-based Thomas having worked with a cross-section of continental improvisers; the emphasis is on a Europanized variant of improvised music, despite there being only one on European in the combo.

Collectively this means that melody become secondary to elaborated experimentation. For instance “Spreepark Serenade”, the shortest track, comes across as an exercise in how to create a notable interface by mostly sounding individual wooden parts of three instruments. Here, and on the much lengthier “Suite for Three”, Wiik, who usually plays in controlled environments such as his own trio and the Atomic quintet, also brings out crashing piano cadenzas to meet up with the clanking stimulation engendered by Daisy’s drum patterns. On “Suite for Three” furthermore, as his pianism segments into cascading dynamics on one hand and motivated swing on the other, a blending of Red Garland and Cecil Taylor is suggested. Solidifying the narrative, with an overriding tremolo, the pianist is doubled by the bassist’s hearty string thumps and later low-pitched bowing. With such concentrated power, when Daisy takes a solo his cymbal rubbing and hands-on Mylar slaps appear refined. Still “Treptow Promenade” demonstrates that the trio can also exhibit power, even as the theme is molasses slow. Here Daisy’s pacing pushes the chordal instruments from hunt-and peck in Wiik’s case and metronomic in Thomas’, to a rugged pulse reflected in sandpaper-like bass string scrapes and inner-piano string bounces.

At 27½ minutes, “There Goes the Sun” is clearly designed as the CD’s major statement. Building up the tension in the primary sequence, bull fiddle-string scrubs and measured pulsing from the drummer presage an explosion of unusual vibrations from the piano’s soundboard so that it almost seems as if Wiik is creating oscillating electronics from his acoustic instrument. Not to be outdone, Thomas stentorian sawing, most likely propelled with the edge of a licence plate, sounds equally capable of severing the strings. It’s up to Daisy’s positioned ruffs to guide the others back to buoyancy. As piano stabs finally turn delicate and bass string whistles contract, a final sequence of chromatic pacing spectacularly bring the interface back to an even keel.

Listeners who enjoy the unfolding of carefully paced melodies will likely be drawn to Floodstage; those who yearn for the musical equivalent of being caught in the centre of a maelstrom may opt for A Fine Day on Berlin. Each is a legitimate expression of contemporary piano trio audacity.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Floodstage: 1. Cold Brewed 2. Floodstage 3. Tan Hands 4. Red House in NOLA 5. Holy Trinity 6. Morning Mama 7. Just a Closer Walk with Thee 8. Loire Valley 9. Saints 10. Sinners 11. On The Half Shell

Personnel: Floodstage: Benoît Delbecq (piano and analog synthesizer); John Hébert (bass) and Gerald Cleaver (drums)

Track Listing: Fine: 1. Suite for Three 2. Spreepark Serenade 3. There Goes the Sun 4. Treptow Promenade

Personnel: Fine: Håvard Wiik (piano); Clayton Thomas (bass) and Stéphane Galland (drums)