Wednesday, May 17, 2017

NZ Music Month: The Truth Isn't Always Ornamental

Bleakley/Crayford/Donaldson: The Truth Isn’t Always Ornamental (Rough Peel Records)
Patrick Bleakley (b) Jonathan Crayford (p) Anthony Donaldson (d)
I stumbled across this 2016 release quite by accident a couple of months ago.

New Zealand Jazz
There is a slightly hypnotic feel running through the 1st four tracks. It leads to continuity while each piece still retains its own flavor. “Dots” features an ostinato from the piano that is maintained through as the solo buildings in intensity with lines of clusters. The flow created by rhythm section is superb. There is another repeated groove on “Bruno’s Tom Toms.” This time the piano holds firm as the bass bows over the top of a slightly sinister feel. The ballad “Street of Dreams,” features the drums bubbling away and building throughout the piece while the bass pedal makes you wait for resolution as the piano ruminates with sparse lines and plenty of sustain. It’s very collective approach rather than soloist and accompanists. The aptly named “Wall of Jazz” bursts out of the blocks and just keeps going - the trio is unrelenting. At times on this track (and some of the others too) Crayford’s phrasing brings to mind Lennie Tristano.

“Pink” is on the brighter side mood wise. The vibe is very familiar but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I kept thinking, “I know this… oh wait… I don’t.” Maybe there’s something about the piano that occasionally reminds me of Paul Bley, and perhaps Mike Nock too. The hypnotic feel present on the first four pieces fades as the rhythm is more broken up (it hints at a return towards the end of the piece as the bass pedals and the piano plays a short repeated figure) and once again it’s a very collective approach to trio playing.

The relaxed swing of “Departing Souls” is broken up with interjections from the drums. It keeps you on your toes and brings something different to the table (as Donaldson tends to do). Possibly the most “straight ahead” track is “Ornamental” and, courtesy of a fade out, it is frustratingly short. It may be a little more conventional playing than what I usually associate with Donaldson, but I’m really enjoying his playing across the entire album. The meditative “Tinalaca” frames the album with the return of the hypnotic quantity. The piece unfolds with a pedal, plenty of sustain and some timely fills from the drums. It wouldn’t be out of place on an ECM album.

There are no composer credits (it's hard to tell if there are tunes involved or if the trio is freely improvising - but I like that!) or recording date. The bass lacks some clarity and at times the overall sound is a bit “boxy,” but the recording does capture the live vibe (at Happy in Wellington) and if anything, it makes you hone your attention a little more. While the 38 minute length is refreshing, it was a little frustrating that some of the tracks fade out. But it left me wanting more, and that’s not a bad thing. These are minor complaints, and nothing that has stopped me from enjoying the music.

The Truth Isn’t Always Ornamental will likely be overshadowed by Crayford’s two trio albums on Rattle Records, Dark Light and East West Moon (both with Ben Street and Dan Weiss), but it offers something a bit different while still maintaining plenty for everyone swing, ballads, groove and collective playing.

Last weeks NZ Music Month post on C.L. Bob can be found here.
New Zealand Jazz

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