Sophie Agnel/John Edwards/Steve Noble

Aqisseq
ONF Records JF010

Kaja Draksler/Petter Eldh/Christian Lillinger

Punkt.Vrt.Plastik

Intakt CD 318

Cécile Cappozzo Trio

Sub Rosa

Ayler Records AylCD-153

Breathing new life into the standard Jazz piano trio are three sets of players who try to shift the genre’s strictures in such a way to highlight their own voices. Notably two of the ensembles are concerned with group composing, while Punkt.Vrt.Plastik is a vehicle for compositions by each member of the group.

That session features Slovenian pianist Kaja Draksler, who has excelled in settings ranging from solo to fronting an octet; German drummer Christian Lillinger, who has powered at least half-a-dozen international combos; and Swedish bassist Petter Eldh, who works with the likes of Gard Nilssen and is also a producer. In contrast Aqisseq features three Free Music veterans, French pianist Sophie Agnel, who is also in the Orchestre National de Jazz; and Britons bassist John Edwards and drummer Steve Noble, who between them have worked with most notable European improvisers from Evan Parker to Peter Brötzmann. Less well-know than the others are the French musicians on Sub Rosa. Pianist Cécile Cappozzo is the daughter of trumpeter Jean-Luc Cappozzo, who guests on one track; bassist Patrice Grente, who has recorded with Will Guthrie and drummer Etienne Ziemniak who plays with Benjamin Dousteyssier.

Uniquely, Punkt.Vrt.Plastik features only one composition by the pianist, compared to five by the drummer and three by the bassist, but it’s in no way a drum-centric CD. Instead, probably through convention, it’s who more often-than-not is the lead voice. Lillinger’s “Momentarily” for instance, is almost a rondo with the pianist constructing a sonic circle, Eldh bending strings into percussive lines and Lillinger’s drums clip-clopping along. Eventually the exposition is resolved in the form of an accented intervention from the piano. Draksler’s interface is more prolix on Eldh’s “Body Decline” on the other hand, sliding a secondary melody into the animated theme which is further drawn-out by woody bass motions and boiling drum expressions. Other narratives are more formal and processional or looser and rubato, but only on the drummer’s “Veins” does she exhibit her full range, moving from an episode of cramming as many notes as possible into the exposition to a simple swing while coursing the theme forward enough to allow her to explore distant parts of the keyboard. If “Plastic”, another Lillinger creation allows for a continuation of this timbre-stretching, melding melody asides and high frequency pattern-spans to meet the drummer’s energetic clatters and cymbal sizzles, then the concluding “Life is Transient”, composed by the bassist, sums up the program. Here the drummer`s shuffle beat reupholsters the unaccompanied piano exposition, draping romantic keyboard inferences with rhythms that maintain the groove while exposing sophisticated pattern deviations.

Into the world of group-composition, Aqisseq, recorded live in concert, cements the idea of tripartite directions. Still the multiple mercurial and/or magisterial properties revealed move beyond measure so that echoes of other instrumental tones are present. A few times it literally appears as if reed or brass intonations have entered the sound arena. Otherwise the strategy advanced is how many unprecedented sounds can be created. High-pitched keyboard chiming and string strums, subtle cymbal rubbing on the snare and energetic double bass string stretching are just the beginning. What is a solid mass of undifferentiated vibrations one moment can splinter in an eye blink into a shrill essay in complex improvisation, one part rubbery double bass string swipes; one part repeated piano dynamics, with secondary commentary after every chord pattern; and one part rattling drum pumps. With the introductory “Aqissit” ending with a shrill whistle, the descriptive “Aqissiaq” which completes the music discourse – except for a nearly inconsequential, less than two-minute coda – advances in an atmospheric fashion. Drum beats become more accents than propulsion; string sweeps are unpacked as slow tones that replicate door-stop echoes; and three-quarters of the way through Agnel’s staccato inner-piano-string plucking and kinetic phasing downshift to near-silence. Before the narrative completely disappears however, Edwards’ multi-string scrubbing, Noble’s spirited drum-top tremors and Agnel’s diverted chording confirm that a connective pulse remains alongside the diffuse detours.

Sub Rosa’s title tune which adds the high-pitched flutter tonguing from Jean-Luc Cappozzo’s trumpet to speedy patterning from the piano is wonderful on its own. But even as a sophisticated brass obbligato confirms that slow-paced ending, it still detracts from the precise interaction Cécile Cappozzo, Grente and Ziemniak have evolved during the four previous selections. Weaving pleasant keyboard flights, somber double-bass strokes and splashing drum expansions into layered sound construction, by midway through “Fragment 2”, the trio has proven that together the members can create decisive cohesion at slow and moderate paces as confidently as at bravado speedy pacing. Furthermore, “Fragment 3” is a rapid expansion of the narrative into spry, sinewy strumming and snapping inventions that swing kinetically and contrapuntally; while “Fragment 4” is a turnaround that enlivens the theme-continuation with woody string plucks, piano key clipping and rebounding drum paradiddles at regularized and restrained motions. It also suggests that in truth there was really no need for the additional quartet tune.

Except for that one misstep, Sub Rosa, like Punkt.Vrt.Plastik and Aqisseq aptly demonstrates that with the right ideas and performances the hoary Jazz piano trio tradition can still be pursued with power and conviction.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Punkt: 1. Nuremberg Amok 2. Evicted 3. Point Torso 4. Azan 5. Veins 6. Body Decline 7. Plastic 8. Momentarily 9. Life is Transient

Personnel: Punkt: Kaja Draksler (piano); Petter Eldh (bass) and Christian Lillinger (drums)

Track Listing: Aqisseq: 1. Aqissit 2. Aqissiaq 3. Aqisseq

Personnel: Aqisseq: Sophie Agnel (piano); John Edwards (bass) and Steve Noble (drums)

Track Listing: Sub: 1-4. Chaos: 1. Fragment 1 2. Fragment 2 3. Fragment 3 4. Fragment 4 5. Sub Rosa+

Personnel: Sub: Jean-Luc Cappozzo (trumpet)+; Cécile Cappozzo (piano); Patrice Grente (bass) and Etienne Ziemniak (drums)