Reviewed by Gavin Franklin, September 1st, 2014
This offering is issued under the name of Sam Bates, the composer of all seven compositions recorded. It is, however, the result of very equal participation by the members of a trio consisting of Bates on drums, Marc Hannaford on piano and Philip Rex on double bass. Explanatory text on the CD case is sparse although the Alan C Rose Memorial Trust Scholarship, University of Melbourne and the Victorian College of the Arts receive acknowledgement for their financial assistance. I, too, thank them.
The initial track, He Who Laughs, begins as a minimal Latinesque conversation between the drums and the piano. The ensuing piano solo is a fine example of building from simple to more complex ideas as the improvisation moves through time. Hannaford begins by placing single notes into the percussion accompaniment, like dropping pebbles into a pond. These develop into short motives and eventually into flowing lines as the rhythmic feel changes subtly to a fast swing. The piece comes to a close following a skilful solo by the drummer/leader. It is an auspicious beginning.
What might a listener expect of a tune with the title Rat Rescue? Certainly the rock back-beat rhythm is here, but the atmospheric chords and single descending bass lick give a sense that what we hear on this recording is a much shortened version of something that would be more extensive in live performance. The third selection, Bubblegum Factory, consists of simple harmonic-melodic material that is appropriate because the piece is essentially an exploration of a difficult five-plus-four metre. Hannaford plays fluently and logically over this shifting metric background, producing a brilliant piano solo. I admire this man’s work very much.
Make It Stop eventually settles into a medium jazz waltz (predominantly) during the central drum solo, although the head is undecided about its metric status. Mixing metres seems to be part also of the definition of track five, titled Superjumbo. There is considerable influence of ‘second-line’ practice in Bates’ work throughout this track and the pianist excels again.
The composition titled Seaworthy is another example of minimalism, consisting of a three-note tune, a bass riff and a short passage of parallel chords. Bates uses brushes throughout his accompaniment of a fine bass solo and some freely improvised piano and bass passages. Bates’ polyrhythmic drumming is a highlight on Wolverine, the final track on the CD.
The subtle variety of material makes this an album that has satisfying balance. It features outstanding creative work by all three musicians and anybody interested in hearing contemporary piano, bass and drums trios should obtain a copy as soon as possible. At first, I was distracted by the simplicity of some of the heads but on further listening I discovered several improvisational gems in the soloing, particularly that by Marc Hannaford.