“Out of Doors” is an original suite inspired by the eight Hungarian folk melodies used by Bela Bartók in his 1920 composition 8 Improvisations Op. 20. Pianist/composer Bruno Heinen also cites a particular passion for Duke Ellington’s Money Jungle, Alice Coltrane’s Journey in Satchidananda, Chick Corea’s Now He Sings Now He Sobs, and the piano music of Ligeti and Ravel. An intriguing mix indeed, and interestingly one that is discernible in the criss-crossing of styles that sing out from the music being performed here.
With Italian bassist and long-time collaborator Andrea Di Blase, and acclaimed US drummer Gene Calderazzo, this is a particularly inventive piano-led trio that somehow breaks the mould, bringing a unique sound and style that blurs the borders between modern jazz, contemporary classical and traditional folk tunes. There’s an almost fairytale-esque feel to the music, ranging from light, melodic playfulness, to darkly transformative and transient melancholia.
Heinen’s roots in impressionistic classical music are embellished by Di Blase’s classical training and deep understanding of European jazz, with Calderazzo going beyond the usual groove and swing we have come to expect, adding mood and atmosphere with an incredibly thoughtful and deft palette of colour and texture. This is the first release from this trio, adding to an already diverse array of recordings from Heinen, which include collaborations with artists such as Shabaka Hutchings, Denys Baptiste, Jean Toussaint and Sir Simon Rattle, along with music composed for groups ranging from sextet to two pianos and percussion and from big band to classical ensembles.
As the opening piece “What Happens Now” begins, I find myself being immediately drawn in by its slightly uneasy narrative. In a musical sense, imagine a nursery rhyme that gradually becomes more uncomfortable in essence and you won’t be far off the feel of this tune. It is, however, intriguing and haunting, and I love the interaction between the three musicians, creating together something of indefinable beauty. Calderazzo’s drums are like a heartbeat beating strong and rhythmically for the intro to “Devil’s Ditty”. Heinen then takes the piece into an almost hysterically frenzied place where parody meets pathos; a theatrical ensemble piece one might conclude. “Fool In The Grave” begins with Di Blase’s bowed bass and comes alive with Heinen’s spiritual apparition blazing forth into a flickering light. “The Wave” is an adventurous piece that in itself seems to cover most musical genres known to man. Moving onto Fender Rhodes, “Look Before You Leap” seems to give the pianist an equally large canvass to paint his musical pictures, with the groove hitting strong and hard, deep and vivacious. The spellbinding “Past Present” is undoubtedly one of the highlights of this album. Its anthemic nature doesn’t prevent it from hitting the emotions hard, it’s boldness turning things on its head, like an idolised anti-hero. “Mirror” cascades with its own freedom and vitality emanating from an unadulterated romanticism that stuns me with its innate beauty. The closing piece “Homecoming” benefits from that warm Rhodes sound that just wants to keep you wrapped up like a welcoming comfort blanket. Bass and drums accentuate the vibe, as the tune itself reverberates and redirects the listener with its odd little melodies seeping in and out, gradually finding the right path home.
“Out of Doors” is undoubtedly one of the most interesting and original trio albums I’ve heard in a fair old while. It definitely benefits from repeated listening as its unassuming brilliance gradually reveals itself. On a first rather inattentive initial listen, I might have dismissed this album as too quirky or contrived even. How glad I am that I then gave it the time it deserves. It may have its flaws, but it stands out as a compellingly original release that offers something new and exciting to the world of piano-led jazz trios.