Sunday, August 07, 2011

CD Review - Bebop Trio

Bebop Trio
(Creative Nation Music)

The name of this trio is fairly deceptive. They aren't blowing traditional versions of "Salt Peanuts" or "Hot House." Nor are they playing irreverant takes on bop standards, as clarinetist Ben Goldberg did with the nearly thrash versions of Bird and Diz on his Junk Genius album. Letteris Kordis (piano), Alec Spiegelman (clarinet) and Thor Thorvaldsson (drums) play something rather deep cut bop compositions - bop might not even be an operative word when discussing Lennie Tristano and Duke Ellington - which they perform them as a whole suite and link together with improvised interludes. I almost used the word "ironic" to describe them, but that doesn't fit.

In addition to Tristano and Ellington, the Trio meditates on Bud Powell's "Celia," Elmo Hope's "Boa," and Herbie Nichols' "Change of Season." In a way it doesn't seem right to merely compare these versions of the tunes to the originals and judge them accordingly. It's clear that Kordis, Spiegelman and Thorvaldsson know the contours of this music. (Spiegelman recalls his college days in the liner notes, when he played Monk themes 10 to 20 times through with Kordis "until we could not play them wrong.") Yet sometimes this conservatory approach to the music seems to work against them, making it sound too studied or wrapped up in technical approach.

"Celia" comes right out of their three-minute "Prelude" and the segue is easy to miss if not paying attention. Thorvaldsson almost plays the tune as straight swing, and his comrades state the melody almost like a canon, suspending chord changes until their halfway through the piece. The arrangement motivated me to investigate Powell's original piece to find out exactly what they're using as a springboard, which goes against what I said earlier but it helped appreciate the group's arrangement. The piece gets a full length reprise at the end of the album, by which time the trio is fired up and cutting loose. However the first version serves as an interesting exposition of what's to come.

Hope's "Boa" has interesting moments, with some deceptive use of the beat, and a section that sounds like the coda of "Round Midnight." This may or may not be an intentional borrow from the standard of this genre, or perhaps Hope actually borrowed the motif from his longtime friend (or vice-versa). Either way, it works. Monk also shows up - in my mind at least - during Tristano's "317 East 32nd" with the way Thorvaldsson plays a beat similar to the way Art Blakey played "Bye-Ya" with the pianist. This track begins with some striking free exploration from the group.

"Change of Season"(by Nichols) is a piece that seems most disconnected from its original source and it's also a bit unsatisfying. Spiegelman, who has an impeccable tone and can shift from a crisp note to a nice growl in a moment, plays the melody with gentleness, but Kordis approaches it with a classical feel during the theme that detracts from the piece, and Thorvaldsson never seems to get a good feel for whether he should add color or play time.

"Postlude" ends the album with 68 seconds of what sounds like toy whistles and clarinet tweets. They're not meant as a wild, noisy conclusion to the set. In fact they sound like they're just off-mike, and are more like a playful wrap-up to a fun performance. This sense of joie de vivre could have been more visible in conjunction with the technical approach throughout the album, but Bebop Trio still has some strong elements going for it. Better to just sit back and listen to the album as a whole than try to figure out where one piece ends and what tune the next improvisation cues in.


Alec said...

Thanks for listening! - Alec

shanleymusic said...

Alec, my pleasure! Thanks for stopping by the blog. Keep me posted on other musical activities that you're involved with.