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REVIEW ROUND-UP: Trio M's "Big Picture"

Goodness, has it been a month already since supergroup Trio M -- the 00's avant-jazz version of the Travelling Wilburys -- stunned a nation with their maiden voyage Big Picture? Here's a smattering of praise from the kind folks out there who've reviewed it.

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Take a blues-based foundation, add some modern classical lines, a little impressionism here and there, some hard bop and swing and even funky rhythms, jazz harmonies, combined with superb instrumental skills and creative improvizational musicianship which push the boundaries of all the combined genres mentioned above, and you start having an idea what this album is all about, with Myra Melford on piano, Mark Dresser on bass and Matt Wilson on drums. From the very first notes of the first track "Brainfire & Buglight", you will immediately notice that all three musicians play an equal role in creating this varied, intense and captivating music. Just listen to the samples below and judge for yourself. (Free Jazz, 11/25/07)

Pianist Myra Melford, bassist Mark Dresser, and drummer Matt Wilson perform seven intriguing originals on this CD. To simplify the improvising a bit, it hints strongly in spots of Cecil Taylor, the percussiveness of Don Pullen, and of Keith Jarrett's '70s inside/outside music without sounding like a copy of any of those predecessors. The interplay between the three musicians is consistently exciting and, while Melford is the main soloist, Dresser has some spots on bowed bass while Wilson's supportive contributions should not be overlooked. The performances are consistently unpredictable, drawing upon much of jazz history of the past 40 years while creating new and fresh music. This set grows in interest with each listen and contains some of Melford's finest playing to date. (Scott Yanow, All Music Guide)

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, All About Jazz)

Trio M is a collective all-star trio made up of pianist Myra Melford, bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Matt Wilson. The group began playing together in early 2006 and worked several more gigs before coming together once more to record at the end of that year. They play a complex and progressive brand of modern jazz, improvising collectively on a wide range of material. The music if often quite percussive and aggressive, particularly on the title song "Big Picture" where very fast piano and drums are rooted by strong plucked bass. Melford adds some rippling Don Pullen like piano, leading to some exhilaratingly strong playing from all three musicians and culminating with percussive piano of Cecil Talyor like power. A slower spacier passage leads to the song's conclusion with bowed bass and cascading piano and percussion. "Modern Pine" is a little slower, taking a melodic mid-tempo approach. This is an enjoyable performance with subtle gear shifting to adjust tempo and pace. There is a traditional modern jazz sound here with the piano leading and bass and drums in support. Imagine the Mulgrew Miller trio jacked up on 20 oz. strong coffees and you get the idea. High pitched bowed bass introduces "Secrets to Tell You". Dresser's eerie sounding bowed bass is at the center of this song, taking the lead while piano and percussion ebb and flow around it, creating a haunting and evocative sound. "FreeKonomics" opens with fractured drums with plucked bass and probing piano. The pace increases to an abrupt conclusion with dark sounding piano. This is a powerful trio with the musicians deeply in sync with each other. While different instruments will occasionally take a lead role in particular improvisations, it is the collective integrity of the music that impresses the most. This is thoughtful and forward thinking jazz music which deserves widespread respect. (Jazz and Blues Music Reviews, 9/14/07)

They call themselves “Trio M.” Melford is the most artful user of tone-clusters and Cecil Taylorish keyboard gobbles and piano splatter since the death of Don Pullen. What’s so exciting about this disc is that even though they’ve only been playing together since January 2006, these are three musicians who were born to hang out and play together. In Trio M, they’re abstractionists who are gifted at functioning as the jazz equivalent of “representationalists” for long periods. Different pieces on the disc are dedicated to Ornette Coleman’s trumpet player Bobby Bradford, and drummers Paul Motian and Ed Thigpen, which is a good representation of how far flung the musical geography of the group is. It’s impossible to pretend that every moment seems to lead to the next but, at their best, they play with total authority. (Jeff Simon, Buffalo News)

Corraling these three was an inspired notion -- toppermost musicians with obvious chemistry, relaxed and trying to prove nothing. Seems they made an adventuresome, extremely likable record without hardly trying. Yea tho they be avantists, they shrank not from having a bit o’ sport with the blues -- strolling, strutting and dazed/confused on “Modern Pine”; tumbling into a regular bar scuffle complete with busted stools and an escalating “oh yeah well so’s your mama” riff on “Naïve Art.” There’s a tip of the hat to Ornette (“For Bradford”), a dark and stealthy paranoia riff (“FreeKonomics”), and let’s see what happens when we seat post-bop next to Iberian tango and serve up the bubbly (“BrainFire and BugLight”). Melford applies her hard-rubber piano touch to rush and splash; Wilson drums with prodding, conversational humanity; Dresser is bigger and more bottomy than you probably expected, turning in an emotional hate-to-even-call-it-a-performance on Melford’s “Secrets to Tell You” -- the way his bass melody laments and his coarse overtones plead, it veritably feels as if he’s bowing your heartstrings. And let me tell you my own story of the long cinematic title track. Melford’s lost in the back roads of New Jersey, see, late for a gig, when she pulls over to scan a map and falls asleep. She wakes in another world -- beautiful, but she senses danger. As her head clears (did somebody slip knockout drops into her coffee?), bright light shoots painfully through her consciousness and she remembers a dire prophecy. A low rumble begins, then builds. The ground is shaking! She prays, unsure, never having prayed before. And the earthquake relents. It was only a 4.8. Or was that just the setup for the main temblor? Dunno. Wait for the sequel.
(Greg Burk, MetalJazz, 10/05/07)

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