The trio format of wind instrument, double bass and percussion has been a fruitful one for jazz and jazz-derived improvised music. The absence of the harmonic definition conventionally provided by piano or its equivalent allows for a great degree of musical freedom in many forms. Three new releases from the No Business label provide a window into the different flavors of freedom of the winds-bass-drums trio.
To start with the least conventional of the trios, there is The Spell by a trio led by French hornist Vincent Chancey and including the late double bassist Wilber Morris and the percussionist Warren Smith. All three musicians are or were highly accomplished practitioners of the art; Chancey, whose name may be less familiar to many, spent the mid 1970s in Sun Ra’s Arkestra and the 1980s in Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy and the David Murray Big Band. The Spell is an archival recording made in the Kraine Art Gallery in New York City in October of 1987; the sound quality is somewhat raw and the audio field shallow–as one might reasonably expect from the on-the-spot technology of the time–but the performances come through clearly and eloquently. Chancey takes an unlikely candidate for lead instrument in a jazz setting and plays it nimbly; Morris and Smith respond with both power and subtlety. The group’s sui generis makeup lends the collective sound a warm, wine-dark quality which is only emphasized when the keys turn minor, as they do in the first piece, a composition by Morris. What keeps the music from being confined to a narrow range of timbres is Morris’ moving back and forth between arco and pizzicato and Smith’s use of mallet percussion. The subtle framing effect this has on Chancey’s horn comes out particularly well on the fourth track, another Morris composition, where first double bass and then mallet percussion play in unison with the horn. The Spell is a rewarding album and another example of No Business’ making available historic performances that otherwise would undeservedly be forgotten.
In contrast to the vintage performance captured on The Spell, The Gift is a recording of the contemporary trio of brothers trombonist Conny Bauer and double bassist Matthias Bauer, and drummer Dag Magnus Narvesen performing live in Berlin in July of 2018. The dynamic within this trio is very much driven by both Bauers acting as coequal lead voices. Matthias is heard mostly on bow, which allows his instrument to project its sound all the more effectively alongside of Conny’s bright, brassy horn. Indeed, Conny plays with an assertive, forward tone, but the soliloquy with which he opens the second piece develops out of an inward-turning, meditative mood. Matthias’ own solo work is meticulously honed and especially exciting when pushing back against Narvesen’s support. The latter is a key element within the mix; he is a remarkably sensitive and inventive colorist whose muscular playing raises and lowers tensions as the music’s emotional trajectory demands. An excellent unit and an engaging recording.
Lastly there is Some More Jazz by Keys and Screws. Keys and Screws is a wind trio with the more conventional makeup of saxophone, double bass, and drums. The group—tenor and soprano saxophonist Thomas Borgmann, double bassist Jan Roder and percussionist Willi Kellers—recorded Some More Jazz in Berlin in May of 2017. Although made in a studio, the recording seems to have been done live, to judge from the communication and chemistry it displays. The music is loose but together, organized with short motifs articulated on saxophone and varied on the bass, and all tied together with shambling but cohesive grooves.