PRIM – Garnet Tales
I have to admit that piano trios are not my thing. It's such a flexible format with unlimited scope for interplay between musicians, yet even my favourite pianists (Chick Corea, Thelonious Monk, Keith Jarrett,...) I prefer to hear in "non-trio" settings.
So it's surprising to find this album from PRIM so enthralling. Formed in 2015, the trio now comprises Christoph Karas (drums), Felix Biller (keys) and Martin Melzer (electric bass), joined on one track by guest rising star saxophonist Victoria Pfeil.
All seven tracks are Felix Biller compositions, with his bandmates collaborating on four cuts.
The album begins with "Riverlude" and straight away the syncopated brush drums and arpeggiated piano show this is a fast flowing and unpredictable river. The bassline is thoughtfully independent of the piano and the recording has a tightly focused sound, helping each instrument shine through. Biller's classical music interests are carefully integrated with jazz and film music stylings.
"Aleatory in Quint" bursts in with a more electric sound on both bass and piano, combining Fender Rhodes and acoustic piano. From the title you may expect something random sounding in 5/4 time but it's nothing so obvious; "quint" seems to refer to the fifth intervals on which the harmony is built. This is a highly organised composition with lots of tempo changes introducing variations on a distinctive blues/fusion theme. It grabs the listener's attention and won't let go for 6 minutes.
"Coffeebean breakdown" is a playful theme again combining acoustic piano with electric, this time treated with a filter and vibrato. Bass and drums combine in a driving funk groove before tempo and metre again become restless, exploring swing and reggae feels. The three players are very much equal partners; Christoph Karas is always exciting on drums and the compositions are cleverly organised to put bass and drums in the foreground as often as the piano without anything so obvious as drum or bass solos.
"The town of undecided" starts at a slower pace, exploring some beautiful chord structures and constant key changes which illuminate the title; the trio's youthful energy soon takes over and we're back in 16 beats to the bar plus syncopated triplets. "The tale of Spanky McCurly" explores metric mayhem and extreme ragtime with five distinct sections in under three minutes; the tight coordination between musicians is always exciting and shows the benefit of extensive rehearsal and live work.
"Mind and the wind" is an intriguing title for another restless yet spacious improvisation; all these pieces combine a strong narrative structure without sounding linear or contrived. When the band say they are "challenging the expectations of the piano trio format" they live up to their manifesto.
Finally "40 days re-imagined" adds the saxophone of Victoria Pfeil who's inventiveness and wide timbral range fits right into the trio's aesthetic. The tune has a modal feel in triple time and a haunting theme which evolves over seven minutes of thrilling interplay between sax and piano.
"Garnet tales" is a fresh and exciting use of the piano trio format; high energy without ever feeling cluttered, full of unexpected twists and repaying repeated listens. You can listen on Bandcamp and buy individual tracks if you prefer but the whole album is highly recommended.
© Stephen Godsall