10 November 2007

Apoplexia (NJWC1)

The first of CJ's three reviews for the National Jazz Writing Competition

CD review
Trio Apoplectic (CD title and band name)
Dave Jackson (alto sax), Abel Cross (bass), Alex Masso (drums)
JazzGroove, JGR036, (mastered) November 2006
600 words

Macquarie defines apoplexy as a “marked loss of bodily function due to cerebral haemorrhage”. A band that lays claim to such a title is obviously saying something to us. I’ve seen TA several times live, and I can confirm that the title fits. But their selftitled album is a much clearer and more understandable statement of this claim. Why a loss of bodily function? For me, it’s the indefinite nature of tonality and harmony that’s inherent in this stream of modern jazz. Trio Apoplectic are not the only ones doing this. Similar sounds come from people like Steve Coleman and Greg Osby and the history of this style dates at least from free and avantguard forms of the 60s. To hear it live is ecstatic and disorienting and an intellectual challenge. To hear it in a studio incarnation is clearer, more defined and usually more restrained. But also more comprehensible.

Trio Apoplectic are Dave Jackson (alto sax), Abel Cross (bass) and Alex Masso (drums). The chordless trio is a key component of their style. It opens the harmonic structure, frees to the counterpoint of bass and sax, allows ambiguity in chordal movements. So the experience is not of an underlying chordal structure with superimposed melody and improvisations. This is far more malleable. Every note defines a relationship to each other note, and, with only two pitched parts, is open to multiple implied harmonies. It also frees each player for a front line role. There’s no longer a defined leader, or a clear player of heads, or someone who at any one time is soloing or supporting. Everyone takes the role, and pretty much all the time. If this is sounding like bodily malfunction to you, we’re on a common path. But in the style of the post-modern, in this malfunction hides beauty.

The tunes are mostly original and confirm this appeal to our most investigative senses. They’re penned by Abel and Alex (bass and drums) but the compositions are varied and valid; not all riff or rhythm based as you may expect. “Dynamite” sets the scene for the album. It’s is a hard bop from the top, with sax lines stretching over bar lines, intriguing bass lines laying down harmony, but none too obviously, and capable and very pleasant sounding drums interpreting. This band can swing hard, always rhythmically obvious, but never chordally too evident. “Details of how to get APOPLECTIC on your licence plate” moves into the freer sphere: unison lines in the head, short hard swing segments and drum/sax and bass/percussion solos. “Windy” is more a bassist’s composition, with starter bass solo and a riff basis. “Firewaltz” is a Mal Waldron post-bop. “Skyblocks” is air and space and soundscape. “Boo Boo’s birthday” is a lesser-played Monk tune. It’s a basis for drum and bass solos, but otherwise relatively standard in these surroundings. “Cann River” is authentic free. Finishing, “Sunday arvo” is melancholic and sounds true to quiet, thoughtful times.

Dave’s sax is mobile in extent and tuneful in expression. Overt, but never obvious. Abel’s bass is gloriously rich and searching in spelling the chords; again never predictable but always satisfying. Alex’s drumming as an object lesson in communicating with other players. And the openness of the chordless trio format allows beautiful, ringing sounds from all instruments. The recording is particularly satisfying for the sensuous clarity which highlights the serious purpose of the music.

So, apoplectic? Loss of bodily functions? Yeah, at first sight it’s unclear, undefined, challenging. But listen with an open mind, and there’s a world of intent and a deeply thoughtful interplay: wonderful, modern, beauteous sounds.

No comments: