Who are today's heroes of jazz? Icons pushing the art form forward, while both challenging and amazing the listener, emerge from a generation that cut their teeth in the Downtown scene of the '80s and '90s (not AACM sages of the '60 and '70s, but not fresh-faced out of music school, either) and have matured into masters of their craft who can set the example clear into this next century.
Bringing some such stalwarts into laser-sharp focus is the group called Trio M, combining three of the tightest and most innovative players for reasons presumably other than their first initials.
Frequent Dave Douglas collaborator Myra Melford -- the top female avant-garde pianist I can think of, other than Marilyn Crispell -- has an innate ability to swing inside and express the blues succinctly (see the track "Naive Art") but also to venture way out, Cecil Taylor style.
Then we have Mark Dresser, member of Anthony Braxton's group in the late '80s, whose current resume stretches from college professor to classical symphony player, along with working from everyone from John Zorn to Andrew Cyrille. And finally, drummer Matt Wilson, who began in the Boston with the famed Either/Orchestra and has pounded his way towards recent recognition in Downbeat magazine.
So Trio M is a supergroup in every sense, but what do they accomplish on this debut? Right out of the gate, "brainFire and bugLight" demonstrates their knack for both a head-bobbing 5/4 motif and for gentle, sculptural soundscapes. "Modern Pine" heads in the other direction, aiming for accessible, finger-snapping lounge-pizzazz, almost making you think there are two different groups on the same disc, until Melford unconventionally unravels her piano lines. If it doesn't get serious consideration for public radio airplay, something's wrong with the program director.
On "Secrets to Tell You," Dresser spins beautiful, somewhat mournful arco melodies, while "FreeKonomics" illustrates the most rhythmic aspects of the trio, as Wilson propels the proceedings with percussion that stops and starts on a dime. The centerpiece is truly the title track in the middle, containing an impressive overview of this trio's skill in wicked interplay and instrumental inventiveness, from introspective mellows to frenetic bombast. There's nothing so off-the-wall that any mainstream jazzer couldn't easily get the "Big Picture" on what the forefront of the avant-garde represents today. The "New Thing" is still as relevant and entertaining as ever.
-- Manny Theiner