THREE WAYS OF LOOKING AT A
Tern, Louis Moholo, Larry Stabbins, Keith
Tippett (Atavistic. UMS/ALP 245CD)
Angles of Repose, Joe Maneri,
Barre Phillips, Matt Maneri (ECM Records. 980 6760)
Moment Returns, Triosk (Leaf
Encountering the trio in jazz settings all too often means
another assembly of piano/bass/drums or sax/bass/drums which in many
instances is fine, but it is sometimes more intriguing to discover other
combinations which break with the format and produce music that is beyond the
'soloist with rhythm section' line-up. The Moholo/Stabbins/Tippett release is
certainly in this category.
Released, all too appropriately, under the Unheard Music Series this superb
recording is a re-issue from FMP Archive Editions of what was, in 1982, a
double LP set. Due to the constraints of the cd format one track has been
omitted, nevertheless it is gratifying to have this music available once
The 1980s were dark times for the likes of Tippett and Moholo when there was
reduced interest in their brand of jazz in the UK. Fashion had changed and
their music was neither popular nor marketable. In terms of live work more
gigs were to be found in Europe, in this case Berlin, where these
performances were recorded. Germany's FMP Records were crucial in documenting
such work at a time when major companies were hell-bent on ignoring it. But
enough of the history.
What emerges from this set is the sound of three musicians who know each
other's moves intimately whilst still allowing for the unexpected. Moholo's
drumming has powered many jazz outfits from The Blue Notes onward and his
partnership with Tippett developed in many British based bands. The still
under-rated Stabbins has been with Tippett since the heady days of Centipede.
The first part of the title track exemplifies their astonishing rapport as
the piece moves seamlessly from Tippett's dark, opening thunder set against
Stabbins' and Moholo lighter touches. Gradually the soprano asserts itself
and at one point develops a folksy extemporisation. Part two opens with the
unusual but complementary feature of Tippett's voice in duet with the
soprano. There is something arresting and primal about this combination but
it is only a brief interlude before the saxophonist unleashes a tidal wave of
pure invention, driven by both drummer and pianist. As the piece develops
there is a balance of vigorous group engagement and reflective exploration.
All of it is compelling and leaves me baffled as to why so many seemed to
think this music was too difficult to bother with.
'Mania/Dance' starts off gently with softly ululating sax, light cymbal work
and Tippett teasing barely audible sounds from the piano's strings.
Gradually, it builds in intensity, Stabbins exploring with controlled passion
while Tippett characteristically employs a mostly percussive attack,
building walls of sound with
Moholo. Again, the key element is empathy, each player listening closely to
the other and responding swiftly. This is a superb example of control and
intensity in free improvisation, moving and full-blooded music that never
strays into mere directionless 'blowing'.
As a conclusion they chose a re-titled theme which has appeared on both
Tippett's large group work, 'Frames' and the material he arranged for the
Georgian ensemble and Mujician. The stately motif of 'The Greatest Service'
is outlined by the pianist then used as the basis for a further energetic
trio improvisation featuring powerhouse drumming and some hoarse declamations
from Stabbins. If anyone were in doubt about the fire and cohesion of this
music I'd suggest they listen to this track, if possible, but really it is an
all or nothing experience of the most rewarding kind from start to finish and
I am grateful to Atavistic and anyone else concerned for making it available
I have listened to Joe Maneri on several occasions and I'm
still not certain what it is that others see/hear in his work. I find it cold
and bloodless, his voice a cry in a wilderness I'm not tempted to enter and
explore. Here, amidst the relative warmth of bassist Phillips' playing his
sound is harsh and grating and, to my ears, completely unappealing. Why is
this ? There is certainly something different in his approach to
improvisation and it can't all be to do with the microtonal approach he is
frequently associated with. Take for instance 'Number Three' where he is
unaccompanied. The sound is chilly and somewhat shapeless, the sax bellowing
or moaning like some lost and confused creature trying to locate an exit from
the labyrinth. And this is the overall impression I gained from several
The most moving sections of this recording are when Phillips and Mat
Maneri blend their strings and
introduce a warmer element to the proceedings, as on 'Number Five'. Here the
viola soars and swoops over the sympathetic double bass which switches
between pizzicato and arco. This duo setting is more passionate and engaging
than much of the cd and I'd like to hear more of their work together. But, as
for Maneri senior I'm afraid his playing remains in a territory that is at
best forbidding and which remains closed to me.
Mixtures of jazz and electronics are no longer new or startling and the
success of any work that fuses these elements depends perhaps on the subtle
integration that takes place between them. Triosk are an Australian trio,
comprising piano/keyboards/vibes, bass and drums who operate in this field.
In addition each player makes use of loops and samples as part of their
overall treatment of the trio's basic sound. So the result is often located
in a kind of twilight area between piano jazz and the gentler manifestations
Their music is a curiously dreamy amalgam that finds busy drumming pitched
next to sturdy acoustic bass while keyboard loops and other samples float and
dissolve around them. For example, on 'Love Chariot' they utilise a loop not
unlike something Soft Machine's Mike Ratledge might have created. This then
becomes the foundation over which limpid vibes and urgent percussion combine
to build a series of suspended moments.
This is fairly typical of their process and can be witnessed elsewhere, for
instance, on 'The Streets Are Empty'. Again a keyboard loop hovers while
distant drumming echoes and ricochets before the piece reaches a more harsh,
fuzz-laden conclusion. Sometimes they create a tension rather than simply a
wash of attractive sounds. 'Chrono' works in this way, stitching together
cascading piano, samples and busy drumming in a way that makes the track
appear slightly threatening.
The two part 'Tomorrowtoday' again makes use of loops to set up a glassy web
of keyboards/vibes that develops into a more muscular workout with drums to
the fore and some flexible double bass that anchors the sound more firmly in
human territory. Tracks like this seem to get the balance right and are the
ones I will return to.
If you want extensive, straight ahead trio improvisations then this may not
be for you but if you want to hear some interesting textures that combine
acoustic and electric approaches to the jazz trio then this is well worth
Paul Donnelly 2004