August 28, 2019
Pat Thomas/John Butcher/Ståle Liavik Solberg
Astral Spirits MF 191/AS 088
Umlaut Records umcd 0030
Equally proficient expressing his ideas on piano or with electronics, the UK’s Pat Thomas appears to have developed conflicting Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde-like strategies for either acoustic or processing improvisations. On Metaphor for instance, Thomas who has worked with everyone from Derek Bailey to Spring Heel Jack, fully assimilates the role of a pianist commuted to swinging FreeBop, assisted by Swedish bassist Joel Grip and French drummer Antonin Gerbal. The six remembrances displayed on Fictional Souvenirs however meld the oscillated jitters and wiggling wave forms from Thomas’ Moog Theremini and IPad-based electronics with the distinctive reed facility of fellow Londoner soprano and tenor saxophonist John Butcher and percussion sprawls from Norwegian drummer Ståle Liavik Solberg.
Replete with irregular vibrations, corkscrew-like blasts, shrill whistles and spluttering rebounds, the electro-acoustic trio advances to the point where tones combine to create layers of differently pitched and propelled reed, cymbal and metal-skin tones plus processed velocity where sound loops are reverberated in idiosyncratic patterns. After synthesizing Butcher’s horizontal and sometimes nearly continuous breaths, Solberg’s pops and slaps plus sprawling squeaks and burbles during introductory tracks, the trio’s full spectrum of effects is highlighted during the program’s development. On “Threads”, the strands is contrapuntal challenges are singular saxophone vibrations and processed aviary-like cries until a spinning rim shot moves all three into the climatic “The Effort and a Smile”. More effort than smile, the nearly unbroken ring modular-like gonging eventually blends with deviated reed slurps and drum plops. By then rocket-launching whooshes and rugged irregular tongue vibrations shatter into a powerful saxophone narrative that continues track development along with an undercurrent of signal processing. Somewhat of a coda, emphasis on the concluding “Keys” is on convincing hand drumming, with bounces and rebounds projecting a pseudo-martial beat. This allows the other players to extend a theme that retains hints of melody, despite pressurized tone echoes from the Theremini plus nuanced tenor saxophone buzzes.
More straightforward and almost straight-ahead, Metaphor’s two, more than half hour each tracks, epitomize the parameters of the Jazz piano trio. “Marguerite”, for instance shows how a group can extend a quiet, piano-key dusting exposition into a fiery groove without sacrificing subtlety. If the other track could be stylistically compared to updated Ahmad Jamal-Cedar Walton styling, than the kinetic, “Cockscomb” takes in Cecil Taylor-like dynamics, but never evolves or dissolves into abstraction. “Cockscomb” announces its intentions from the top with thickened bass pedal pressure and sound board vibrations, as Grip’s string sweeps advance the theme, backed by rat-tat-tats from Gerbal. Ambling forward, Thomas’ relaxes the tune’s iteration with repetative patterns that still modulate slightly up the scale with variations of key clipping and key fanning. Cunningly accelerating the rhythm with busy glissandi and contrasting dynamics, the upsurge from the piano also brings in walking bass notes and pressurized drum thwacks. With a shift to lower frequency keyboard comping, space is left for bass string plucks and drum top rattles. This culminates in the trio attaining a swing groove that in turn expands to flowery multi-key glissandi and swirls on Thomas’ part and just as swiftly descends back to the sparse, repetative patterns that marked the piece’s introduction. Repeated actions with high-frequency vibrations mark the crescendo of “Marguerite”, as intervallic keyboard leaps create intense syncopation from Thomas’ light voicing at the track’s beginning. Stretching out these improvisations with tonal restrain, the narrative highlights key stopping dissonance and Bop-like swing as it gallops to the conclusion.
While Tomas’ electronics contribute critical textures to define the high quality tripartite Free Music essay that is Fictional Souvenirs, his individuality appears to be lost. A superior definition of his skills is on Metaphor, especially when he lets loose on “Cockscomb”.
Track Listing: Fictional: 1. Dust 2. Heartaches 3. The Solution 4. Threads 5. The Effort and a Smile 6. Keys
Personnel: Fictional: John Butcher (tenor and soprano saxophones); Pat Thomas (Moog Theremini and IPad based electronics) and Stale Liavik Solberg (drums and percussion)
Track Listing: Metaphor: 1. Cockscomb 2. Marguerite
Personnel: Metaphor: Pat Thomas (piano); Joel Grip (bass) and Antonin Gerbal (drums)