Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Jack Gold-Molina and the Trio Form Today

The pianoless jazz trio of horn (usually sax), bass and drums had auspicious beginnings when Sonny Rollins showed up at the Village Vanguard in the late '50s with such a configuration. The gig and the several recordings of it that followed were enormously influential. Rollins demonstrated convincingly that if you did away with the usual piano component you were freed of the harmonic strictures that the comping keyboard imposed. The bass player became especially critical through the implications of his note selection, and a looser rhythmic interaction became more the norm. Most importantly the horn soloist gained the freedom to play in, out and around any implied harmonic structures. Linear line weaving was infinitely more feasible, and this was a boon for Rollins and his so-called thematic improvisational tendencies.

As time went by, the trio form of musical gathering became ever more popular with musicians. And with the burgeoning of free playing, the horn-bass-drums trio has become a mainstay for jazz akin to, say, the string quartet in the concert music scene.

So when drummer Jack Gold-Molina puts together such a trio, as featured in his recent CD Colored Houses (Sol Disk), he brings into play the history of what groups have done with this format, or undone. He invites comparisons.

"That's all very well," you might think. "What does this trio do that's fantastic and why should I care?" OK, I'm getting to that.

Whatever an ordinary trio might actually be, Jack's trio is not that. First off, Mr. Gold plays tastefully with abundant density. That's the advantage for a drummer of being the leader. I have often felt uncomfortable with those leaders who tend to squelch continual percussive contributions of the overt sort in their groups. That's a shame. Of course not every drummer is up to it. But think of Trane with Elvin, Miles with Tony or DeJohnette. The out-front presence of a great drummer can bring a band to a much higher plane than what sometimes results when the more discrete accompaniment is demanded. If a drummer bashes, so he bashes. What a great drummer who is freed up to really play can do for a group is not to be easily dismissed. Think of Baby Dodds and his solo demo album, for example, versus what he was allowed to play on those early recording sessions (mostly for technical reasons, supposedly. The inscribing needle was allegedly said to jump at loud percussive thwacks. Perhaps too the record executives of the day didn't understand the music and tried to "clean it up" a bit? I don't know.) On the gig (recordings of which alas there are no surviving examples) Dodds must have kicked King Oliver and Louis to the heavens, I'll bet.

The point is that Jack Gold-Molina is one of those drummers who is most benefited by being given a free hand. And the band gets that impact.

Second, bassist Michael Bisio is a killer. With bow or with fingers, he brings a BIG contribution into this group. I won't go into his other activities these days, save to say that his recent quartet and trio recordings have been exemplary (see my other blog at the Gapplegate site for that). He has a great rhythmic sense and interweaves through the proceedings with lines that help drive the music to very good places.

Then there's Michael Monhart on soprano, tenor and baritone saxophones. One of the biggest tributes one can give is to say that somebody doesn't sound like anybody else. He doesn't. His free inventiveness forms the critical third component to the musical totality of Colored Houses.

I am not going to say that this is the seminal free jazz album of the year. It's too early in the year at any rate. What it is, is a lengthy excursion of three thoughtful yet forceful players into a territory that is thoroughly of the moment. Music for today. Very good music for today and I think it will sound just as good, or better, tomorrow.

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