City Paper is not for tourists
Freedom—at least in the sense of “free jazz”— is relative. Trio OOO knows this, and their debut recording Days To Be Told revels as much in the relativity as in the freedom. The textbook definition of free jazz is that it’s jazz that’s free from preplanned harmony and/or time; sometimes Days To Be Told shakes off conventional harmony, and sometimes actively seeks it out. Sometimes it clings fiercely to 4/4 time, sometimes it skirts ones (let alone fours). Constraint, however, is never on the table.
Still, there is a sort of structure to these five songs; it’s about motif. Saxophonist Aaron Martin (on “Fire in the Flint”) or bassist Luke Stewart (on “I Too”) establishes a musical touchstone; henceforth, the improvisations may go in any direction, but will inevitably circle back to those touchstones. They come in a variety of guises. “Cane,” for example, finds Martin creating a very loose form, playing two-bar segments that alternate furious flurries with discrete lyrical phrases (and a semblance of a key—G major); the middle section of “I Too” is the album’s most freeform music, but Stewart ultimately settles on a one-bar pattern and Martin keeps returning to a single long, low A-flat. Sometimes they pass ideas amongst each other: Stewart’s head-nodding groove in “Cane,” the song’s backbone, is an embellishment on the short figure with which Martin opens the track.
Not everything here depends on melody and harmony. Martin’s three-note phrase and the cycle of variations he spins off it may be the most prominent pieces of “Fire in the Flint,” but the track owes just as much to Stewart and drummer Sam Lohman’s rough-and-ready swing. Then there’s the enigma of both “I Too” and the closing “There Is Confusion”: they shrug off countable time—Lohman’s focus seems to be on demonstrating the colors in his cymbal work—yet the Trio manages a rhythmic convergence. This is particularly true on “There Is Confusion”; its swinging-on-no-time shows so much imagination and sophistication that when a clear 4/4 (and a defined harmony) emerges in the final third, it seems almost regressive.
Imagination and sophistication masquerade as primitivism, however, on “Song of the Sun”—Days To Be Told’s most compelling mystery.
Martin Stewart performs on an uncredited wood bamboo flute, unspooling a quiet, breathy line that concentrates on just a few pitches. Even so, it appears to move linearly, while Lohman—barely audible—taps out a march figure on snare and toms. The trancelike insistence and tuning of the drums (one could swear that Stewart’s bass is in there, but no) makes this figure the track’s real melody, a plaintive song that contradicts the rest of the disc while doubling down on the same resources that make it sing.
You can purchase Days To Be Told here.