The Jazz trio strikes a delicate balance. The larger the band, the more limited the possibilities for each musician. Each instrument needs to find its place in the sonic palette and rhythmic scheme. The smaller the band the more limited the varieties of timbre. Each instrument needs to provide enough variety of sounds and phrases to keep the listeners interest.
By reducing the number of musicians, a trio opens more space in the sonic texture for each musician to explore. In larger ensembles each musician can be forced into pre-determined roles by the very nature that each instrument must compete for space in the sound spectrum. Without careful orchestration of parts the group easily descends into a cacophony of chaos (though at times chaos may be a desired effect).
(from University of Michigan‘s blog)
Readers of this blog know how much I like Jazz trios, and in fact many posts and playlists have been dedicated to this unique ensemble. In this post I’m presenting a few excellent albums that I had the opportunity to enjoy since the beginning of 2018.
“CONTRA LA INDECISION” by Bobo Stenson Trio
Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson and his trusty and consolidated trio are back with another precious album of spectacular jazz. Contra la Indecisión, the latest record that the trio has recorded for ECM, is the eleventh since the first that they released in 1971. The music played by Stenson and his companions in this new album is based on slowed rhythms and rarefied atospheres, on top of which we hear sometimes melodic and cantabile musical lines, and in some other cases hints of intermittent, whispered and delicate motifs. The general impression that comes from this album is undoubtedly that of a trio of artists that are confident of their expressive possibilities and free from any pression to demonstrate their skill with special effects. On the contrary, they appear clear from any constraint (or indecision, as the title suggests) and able to enjoy – well before the listener – of the pleasure of traveling through the beautiful music they can create together.
“NOW” by Aka Moon
Aka Moon is the great Belgian jazz trio founded twenty-five years ago by saxophonist Fabrizio Cassol, bassist Michel Hatzigeorgiou and drummer Stephane Galland. These three musicians have published an impressive number of albums, all characterized by a unique musical curiosity, something which led them explore the most disparate influences from the most remote places in the world, and also to mix together elements from jazz and rock music. But the real secret of this trio has been always the capacity to combine an exhausting research for the perfect detail with a strong sense of musicality, something which makes their songs definitely accessible and always enjoyable. In their latest work, NOW, we may appreciate two main elements: first, the intriguing and “unstable” atmospheres that make all songs oscillating between light and darkness; secondly, the beauty of the dialogue that develops between the saxophone and the bass. These two instruments seem to follow each other along a never-ending race, until they unite – in brief moments – where their contributions are joined together and unleash an explosive unison of energy.
“ABSENCE” by Kristjan Randalu, Ben Monder, Markku Ounaskari
As already discussed in the pages of this blog, the “jazz trio” is presumably the form of music which guarantees the best trade off between the richness of the sound and the possibilities of improvisation for the performers. But it’s only when we are in front of an album like Absence that we really understand how far the boundaries of music can be really stretched, both for what concerns the breadth of sound and the possibilites for the musicians to create melodic lines and counterpoints that were initially unimaginable. On the other hand, the three musicians who are involved in this album are true masters of contemporary Jazz: Estonian pianist Kristjan Randalu, American guitarist Ben Monder and Finnish drummer Markku Ounaskari. This is not an easy record, however, mainly because of the multiplicity of elements that are interlocked on each other: avant-garde progressions, classical influences, ambient-like music textures. There are very few points of reference for the casual listener and only those who’re ready to embark into a challenging and varying journey into the sparse and dissonant atmospheres created by this trio will fully enjoy the richness of the material that is offered in the album.
If you liked this article, you will enjoy THE ART OF TRIO, my playlist on Spotify with the best and latest jazz songs played by trios.