Dominic J Marshall & Friends ‘The Triolithic’ (Challenge Records International) 4/5

UK pianist/composer/producer Dominic J Marshall is an ideas man. Some people have money burning a hole in their pocket, some have too much time on their hands, some can’t see the wood for the trees, but it’s obvious listening to the pianist’s latest release that he quite simply has ideas to burn. There’s so much going on in these twelve, largely trio tunes, that one has to draw breath at times to take it all in. With Jamie Peet and Sam Gardner on drums, Sam Vicary on bass, and one tune featuring Lars Dietrich on alto sax, the listener is taken on a breathtaking journey through acoustic jazz, hip hop and electronica. Marshall plays piano, fender Rhodes, septavox, soft synth, percussion overlays, clavichord, wurlitzer, bass programming and drum programming. So that gives you some idea of the variation that’s in store when listening to this album.

Marshall describes the concept behind the album title as; “The Triolithic was a time when humans lived in direct symbiosis with the natural world. We didn’t create barriers between ourselves and other life forms, nor did we presume to own anything. We lived the holy trio of love, poetry and rebellion (to borrow from Octavio Paz) and worshipped trees, our dreams and the sun, How do we get back there?” Well, I don’t know the answer to that, and to be honest, as deep as some of Marshall’s thinking might be, I’m left wondering if he has too many ideas and thoughts going on at one time to make a totally coherent album. There are moments of genius on this recording, but there are also times that as a listener, I find myself frustrated and confused. It’s like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde walked into a recording studio and battled it out for an hour.

The last quarter of this album is outrageously good. So let’s work back from there. The closing tune, “Blue Lotus” (track 12), is pure piano trio brilliance at its best. One of the most striking things about the whole album, is how Marshall can mix things up effectively, creating moods, atmospheres and soundscapes that would make most writers want to jump off a cliff. And on this tune, he opens up his jazz chops and storms his way through the piece with sublime skill and jaw-dropping virtuosity. The electronics used here are subtle and of the right time and place. “Fictions” (track 11) is another largely acoustic piece that hovers and hangs before grabbing hold and drawing the listener in with its wonderful meandering intensity. “Deku Tree” (Track 10) is a stunningly evocative piece, creating a beautiful atmosphere to lose oneself completely in. And “Family Chronicle” bursts with effusive energy and spirit. Marshall takes a more supportive role on this tune as saxophonist Dietrich joins the pianist for the sumptuous melody before breaking free with some excellent soloing.

And the rest of the album is pretty darn fine too. The cool synth sounds on the opener “Devadatta (Intro)” lead the listener into an album of vivacious variety. Wonderful compositions are matched by some incredible interplay from the trio, with twists and turns always creating surprise and delight… for the most part. Having listened to this album several times over, I do however still struggle at times with the way Marshall mixes things up, just a little bit too much for my liking. Others may see this as an incredibly positive thing, and I can understand that, but for me it just sounds at times like a musical adventurer with a new toy, trying to explore too quickly and use too many different sounds and effects. Whilst some of what ensues shows an incredible maturity for such a young musician, there are times when I couldn’t help thinking less is more. That said, this is a very entertaining and refreshingly original album that is worthy of high praise.

Mike Gates