The dynamic that occurs when a specific group of players comes together just can’t be predicted, even if they’ve worked together in other contexts. That’s the story with Trio M—pianist Myra Melford, bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Matt Wilson—three musicians who have intersected on more than one occasion and talked about getting together as a trio. After a handful of 2006 gigs proved correct their inkling that this trio project had more than just potential, they hit the studio with a collection of material, some of which will be familiar to fans of Dresser’s Aquifer (Cryptogramophone, 2002) and Melford’s Where the Two Worlds Touch (Arabesque, 2004). Big Picture proves the malleability of strong material in the hands of a different set of players.
Melford’s “brainFire and bugLight,” a series of motifs linked together by unfettered free play, isn’t quite as chaotic here as it was on Two Worlds, but pared down to a trio there’s an even stronger sense of connection between the musicians. First Dresser, then Melford, get unaccompanied solos; but it’s how the other trio-mates gradually insinuate themselves into the picture that makes things especially interesting. The eastern-tinged 5/4 ostinato passed around like a tag-team early on, allowing everyone the chance to take the lead, is powerful stuff; how they gradually converge into a two-chord, 6/8 pulse from Melford’s solo, no sooner getting there than shifting gears again into another repeated pattern that gives Wilson another solo opportunity before returning to the 5/4 pattern to close, is more impressive still.
Melford and Dresser both have strong reputations in free jazz/improv, and the exuberant Wilson has no shortage of experience either. But the drummer is perhaps better-known in a space that’s a little closer to center—albeit still left-of—and more closely aligned with contexts that groove. On Melford’s title track which, at over thirteen minutes is both the album’s longest and its centerpiece, Wilson effortlessly works through the pianist’s various complex cues without a hitch, creating an underlying ebb-and-flow turbulence that’s as close to reckless abandon as he’s ever been.
That’s not to say, amidst Melford’s near-anarchistic improvisations and Dresser’s fluctuating pulses, that Trio M doesn’t, at times, groove or play it gentle. The bluesy vibe of Dresser’s “Modern Pine” is undeniable, despite breaking midway through Melford’s solo into a double-time swing, then accelerating further into a quarter-note triplet feel that drives Melford to even greater extremes before settling back to its more visceral opening tempo. Melford’s “Secrets to Tell You,” featuring Dresser’s ever-remarkable arco, is an ethereal tone poem that approaches deeper beauty without ever resorting to tired cliché, while the 7/4 pattern at the heart of Wilson’s “Freekonomics” provides a core over which Wilson and Dresser play liberally with time; shifting and elastic, yet ever-present. If this is a snapshot of where Trio M was after only a few gigs, one can only hope there’ll be a follow-up to Big Picture—an album where nobody dominates and everyone shines. - John Kelman