Australia's finest young jazz trio, Trichotomy, blend a touch of the avant-garde with a liberal spoonful of attitude to make a traditional recipe taste sweeter than ever. The Gentle War, is the superb new album from Australian piano trio Trichotomy and the follow-up to the band's critically acclaimed Naim Jazz debut Variations. Recorded shortly after the band's UK tour early last year it finds the lauded trio in especially dynamic form and while their music could be compared to the likes of EST or The Bad Plus, Foran also cites his time here as an influence the music - and not just our beer, but bands such as label mates Neil Cowley Trio, John Taylor and Acoustic Ladyland - but The Gentle War is very much the sound of a band developing their own unique sound. The Gentle War finds the band happily building the success of Variations but is more tightly focused the trio itself. Mixed by Brent Sigmeth (The Bad Plus) the album brings a rockier edge to the mix but without compromising the beauty of the piano sound. It's an aural reflection of the band's music, what e critic called their 'juxtaposition of aggresiveness and tenderness'. Indeed it is this friction which is at the heart of the band's appeal: Their music is both densely rhythmic and sharply melodic, with Foran's excellent compositions seeking a balance between heavily notated sections and completely free improvisations and with the trio allowing ideas to develop naturally.
What’s in a name? This Australian piano, bass and drums trio began life as Misinterprotato. Curiously, their website and Amazon still list The Gentle War under that group name. However, the threesome is now invariably known as Trichotomy, the name under which they toured the UK in 2010. The Gentle War is their second album on Naim, the follow-up to the well-received Variations.
Before abandoning the name issue, it is worth noting that Trichotomy is a fitting name for this trio, as it emphasizes the equal interdependence of its components. The three never sound like a standard piano trio, with bass and drums as a supporting rhythm section. Instead, all three contribute equally to the group’s music, with no obvious hierarchy of esteem.
Unfortunately, Trichotomy tend to be mentioned alongside trios like The Necks, EST and The Bad Plus. Such comparisons give an idea of Trichotomy’s class but not of their musical style. Increasingly, the group is developing a unique sound, based on that three-way participation. Sean Foran’s fluent piano playing is prominent, but just to focus on that would be to miss out on two-thirds of the group’s music.
The eight tracks on The Gentle War are all originals, six by Foran and two by drummer John Parker. The pieces contain considerable contrasts, balancing melody and rhythm, and blurring the boundary between composed music and improvisation. Tempos and energy levels vary dramatically from track to track, sometimes even within a single track.
Foran’s Chase sets the tone for much of the album. Very danceable, it has a catchy melody and a brisk tempo generated by Pat Marchisella’s articulate bass and Parker’s use of brushes and cymbals. By comparison, Blues for the Space is more sedate, placing greater emphasis on the piano. Subtle coloration from bass and drums help make it dramatic and effective.
The episodic title-track is just as dramatic, opening quietly and slowly building momentum. But, on a wonderfully unpredictable album, the biggest surprise comes from Parker’s Shut Up. Its heavier, riff-driven sound features rumbling bass and drums to the fore. An album without a dull moment!