Jazz review: Trio M at the Musicians Institute

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If drummer Matt Wilson ever decides to hang up his sticks, it seemed like he had a future in comedy toward the close of his performance with Trio M at the Musicians Institute on Friday night, part of the Jazz Bakery’s ongoing Movable Feast concert series.

Introducing a few songs by his trio-mates pianist Myra Melford and upright bassist Mark Dresser, Wilson dryly encouraged the crowd to ‘support the economy’ by buying the group’s new CD ‘Guest House’ on the way out, tying the act the part of both the 99% and the 1% before finally insisting the doors would be locked until everyone bought a copy. ‘If you buy both,’ he added in reference to the Trio’s 2007 Cryptogramophone debut ‘Big Picture,’ ‘We might let you have your car.’


Wilson’s buoyant mood was also reflected in the members of the trio, each of whom broke out in smiles at various points during the nearly 90-minute concert. And why not? A three-headed hydra of powerhouse improvisers and bandleaders, Trio M is maybe most notable for how democratically the spotlight is shared when someone isn’t at the microphone with introductions, making the group’s music often sound like a lively conversation among longtime friends.

Though Melford’s echoing piano initially sounded a little thin in the Musicians Institutes’ cavernous performance space, the group dramatically burst out of an unsettled, gestural opening with the Wilson composition ‘Al,’ which coalesced into an off-center sort of swing that pointed to its dedication to free-jazz titan Albert Ayler.

Such nods to jazz’s avant-garde were to be expected given the group’s pedigree, particularly in regards to the L.A.-born Dresser, who over a lengthy career has performed with edge-dwellers Anthony Braxton and John Zorn. The sprawling ‘Tele Mojo’ found Melford clipping something mysterious to the strings of her piano to make it sound like a burbling wind-up toy while Wilson unhooked his snare from its stand to strum a clanging rhythm on the drum’s underside before the song seamlessly settled into a cyclical melody along Dresser’s melancholy bassline.

Dresser experimented with subtle electronics on the African-dusted ‘Ekoneni,’ hammering a pedal at his feet that occasionally had his bass taking on an echoing, reptilian rattle as Wilson tapped out a chiming, street-percussion beat on a small gong laid over one of his drums.

But it was maybe the group’s most straightforward moments that left strongest impressions. Riding a compact, shuffling groove from Wilson, Melford’s chunky chords floated around a slithering bass line by Dresser before she broke loose, alternately chopping notes across her keyboard before letting them tumble gracefully from her fingers. With a similarly raucous feel, set-closer ‘The Promised Land’ found Wilson leaning into a swaggering, head-bobbing funk groove that butted against an off-kilter melody that built to Melford crossing her forearm atop the keys in front of her right hand, practically shoving the song ahead as the rhythm section forged ahead behind her.

Everyone looked to be having the time of their lives, but it was no laughing matter.



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-- Chris Barton