MEM3 ‘Circles’ CD/DIG (Private Press) 4/5

Another week and another piano trio, but does this one have what it takes to make a lasting impression?
This trio is MEM3 comprising Michael Cabe (Seattle) on piano, Mark Lau (Sydney) on bass and Ernesto Cervini (Toronto) at the drums. This is their second release, but the first to reach my ears. On offer are nine original compositions from individual group members together with a traditional hymn. It is significant that the penultimate track is titled ‘4ES’ for it is a dedication to the Swedish pianist Esbjorn Svensson and EST are a clear influence of this trio’s thinking. There are influences from contemporary masters, the Bad Plus and I’m reminded of the sometimes delicate music of the wonderful Peter Esrkine Trio which featured the piano magic of the late John Taylor.

The opening track ‘Centrical’ starts with some electronic wizardry before quickly settling into a gently loping theme so reminiscent of EST. What is so beguiling about this piece is the ‘mood changing’ nature. Just when you think you know what is happening, a change of dynamics hits you square between the ears, a quick change of musical direction wrong-foots the listener and this happens time and time again and then the subtle electronics re-appear.

‘Native Dancer’ follows and is somewhat reminiscent of many a Scandinavian piano-led trio, at first that is, then suddenly there is another change of tempo and mood, as slowly but surely, the intensity of the performance is increased.

There follows the album title track, the aptly titled ‘Circles’. The electronics are back and we are plunged into a musical pool frequented by the likes of “The Necks”. Minimalistic jazz, perhaps?‘Quiescent’ is yet another change of pace. This is a wonderfully delicate ballad with subtle brush-work from the drummer and a fabulous bass solo, almost a folk-tune in its simplicity. This is the outstanding track of the album for me.

Then along comes ‘Shire Song’ so very song-like in its construction, just waiting for someone to add lyrics. Again, the Scandinavian jazz trios come to mind. More great bass soloing. Two-thirds of the way through, the song almost comes to a premature conclusion, but then, seems to draw new breath with an insistent rhythmic figure developing on piano and it’s not long before bass and drums add to the mix stressing the urgency of the piece.

‘Anthem’ develops into a catchy bluesy then and more bass playing par excellence.

‘Faith of our Fathers’ is, I imagine, the traditional hymn and is the shortest piece at just under three minutes and is quite touching.

In a complete contrast ‘Olympic’ is next with the bassist picking out the melody line initially, but with the pianist quickly taking over. This is another example of the co-operative nature of the trio with no apparent leader and with the musical ‘baton’ being passed back and forth between trio members. There are elements of folk, rock, blues and more pastoral impressionism in this piece, at times is most delicate in a Bill Evans kind of way.

‘4ES’ features initial pulsating bass figure with pianist filigree piano figures above, gradually becoming more complex, only to lay out and for the bass to introduce a rock pulse and then take the heat right up, much as EST would have done.

After the intensity of ‘4ES’ the set concludes with ‘AFJ’, quietly bluesy and funky. At times during this album the music of Keith Jarrett comes to mind, as in the final track here, but at times we are edging towards a more freely improvised area.

In a field so full of piano trios, does this one have what it takes to break the mould of what has gone before? If EST were still performing today, would they sound like this? It’s rather too early to answer these questions and impossible on the basis of one album. Let’s see what they do next. In the meantime, this is a completely absorbing set of contemporary mainstream jazz. Available through Bandcamp and cdBaby

Alan Musson