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The Collins dictionary defines the unusual word ‘trichotomy’ as possessing two meanings: a noun that indicates a division into three categories; and the second in the theological sense “the division of man into body, spirit, and soul.”

The band Trichotomy, led by the smart and charismatic Australian pianist Sean Foran (above centre), has come of age with Fact Finding Mission, their latest album. They are not overly concerned with numbers contrary to definition, and then again you suspect theology is hardly a concern of this band either.

Yet the band’s mathematically inclined name, in another sense of the word to do with order theory, connects it to certain influential currents that are driving jazz forward (think Dice Factory through the filter of Vijay Iyer or “maths jazz" for convenience). But this album is not just about the often fickle zeitgeist. Fact Finding Mission (**** RECOMMENDED) builds hugely on the slightly frustrating promise of Variations, and the much more satisfying album The Gentle War, and the band has shed itself completely of primary influence EST.

Trichotomy’s approach, like EST though, has a humanity to it a world away from mathematics, and there’s a realisation with the choice of the spoken word segments on the title track that some people in power are just plain wrong and even dangerous, hence the voice of what sounds like George W. Bush sampled. This band are as natural as rain: they can’t help it, and that’s the strength of an outfit that allows their musical ideas to convert abstractions into emotion.

It’s drummer John Parker who opens up the album with a solo on ‘Strom’, and Foran comes into his own on the lovely ‘Lullaby’. Bassist Patrick Marchisella starts to figure on the Bad Plus-like build that makes title track ‘Fact Finding Mission’ work, in tandem with Foran’s punchy left hand, and the well handled anger of the piece is paramount. Their most ambitious and in my mind successful album to date Trichotomy have added percussionist Tunji Beier, reeds player Linsey Pollak, and guitarist James Muller for this very fulfilling outing. Muller’s solo on ‘Strom’ kicks in like a Kurt Rosenwinkel epic. A suitably joyful noise, something for the body, spirit, and soul after all. SG

Fact Finding Mission is released by Naim records on 4 February

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EXCLUSIVE Not many details so far but it’s looking like Jamie Cullum will be releasing his new album, the singer/pianist’s first since 2009’s The Pursuit, in May time. He’ll move label, within the Universal group, to Island, and has been recording some jazz standards (Love For Sale has been mentioned) as well as some unconfirmed pop and rock covers. Cullum, whose Tuesday night BBC Radio 2 show has consolidated his media profile in the period since The Pursuit was launched, has gained high ratings in the early evening on the show, but hasn’t gigged much as he has been busy working on tracks for the album. But he was the surprise guest at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in July at the Soho Sessions making a return to the club after his Big Audition concert and judging venture for the talent competition the restaurant chain sponsored in 2011. Culllum told me, that night, referring to a possible release, joking: “If you talk to my manager, he’ll tell you it’s coming out next week!”

At the Steinway in the Dean Street club he was joined by leading singers in the body of the audience including Natalie Williams, Ian Shaw and Liane Carroll who harmonised to the mambo-hinting ‘When I Get Famous’, and also sang a lovely ballad called ‘Save Your Soul’, and romped home with ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’. He then duetted with the Sessions headliner, the great Gregory Porter, on ‘God Bless the Child.’ Cullum is believed to be continuing his work with members of his touring band for the album including trumpeter/guitarist Rory Simmons who confirmed he had been recording with Cullum, speaking at the launch of his band Eyes of a Blue Dog’s excellent debut Rise again at the same Soho club in October. Bassist Chris Hill and drummer Brad Webb are also on the record but a complete personnel is unavailable at this time. Key industry figures have heard tracks from the record within the last fortnight. All Cullum is saying for now (via Twitter) is: “I’m going to be seeing all of you a lot next year. LP6 is coming."
Stephen Graham

Album on the way: Jamie Cullum pictured above

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In a Mayan mood, yes that’s ‘doom’ backwards, I’ll return to the endless search for even more genres-within-genres touched on in an earlier piece and what’s been dubbed ‘doom piano’. Why not?, even if it is a fairly meaningless term especially in terms of Norwegian band Splashgirl whose Field Day Rituals is released in February by Hubro, a label that just this week has announced its intention to withdraw from streaming sites. The label, on Twitter, said it took the decision “together with our great artists" to pull the plug on streaming from 2013. Maybe more indie jazz labels will follow Hubro’s lead if sites such as Spotify prove to turn out not to be the promo paradise that many judged them to be. The royalties are certainly tiny for niche or even not so niche music, and a listen or two might actually be all listeners opt for, and they won’t then get to know the band by buying the CD or vinyl. I’ve only heard a track so far from the unreleased album (‘Dulcimer’) and it’s not what you’d think, the track floats like Nordic alt.folk tinged with the New Melodicism a band like Danes Girls in Airports tend to conjour up in terms of atmosphere, but here there’s also an almost Celtic feel in the humanising gracenotes of the track’s lilt. Splashgirl, Andreas Stensland Løwe (piano/electronics), Jo Berger Myhre (double bass/tone generator), and Andreas Lønmo Knudsrød (drums, percussion), have been around for a while, and some jazz purists broke out in a rash when they heard their earlier album Pressure. ‘Dulcimer’ is the balm to their fever. SG

The cover of Field Day Rituals pictured above

Listen to ‘Dulcimer’ via http://marlbank.tumblr.com/post/36590925946/46666

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Mingus Ah Um is inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2013, and last night at a memorial gig for the jazz photographer Peter Symes, ‘Fables of Faubus’, from the album, got the second set off to a flying start performed by the Chris Biscoe Profiles Quartet at the Spice of Life backstage bar venue in Soho. Profiles is shortly to release a new CD called Live at Campus West, recorded in Hertfordshire’s Welwyn Garden City. Biscoe has had a busy autumn appearing with various bands he leads also performing with composer Mike Westbrook whose trio the Somerset-born reeds player has been a member of for 30 years. Three into Wonderfull released to coincide marked this anniversary admirably.

A man of many interests, Biscoe has explored the music of Eric Dolphy extensively, as well as that of Mingus with Profiles for some years now, and last night at Paul Pace’s Spicejazz session in the basement club a short distance from the Palace Theatre appeared with fellow quartet members saxophonist Tony Kofi and bassist Larry Bartley (who also play together in Abdullah Ibrahim’s Ekaya), and drummer Stu Butterfield known for his work as a member of the Henry Lowther/Jim Mullen quartet. Last night’s excellent gig was a fitting tribute to Peter Symes, who died just over a year ago and who was well known and respected for his fine photographic coverage of the UK jazz scene over many years. SG

Profiles pictured above photographed in 2008 by Peter Symes

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2012 has been the year of the piano trio with the Vijay Iyer trio, Ahmad Jamal, EST, the Brad Mehldau trio, Neil Cowley trio adding strings, Tingvall trio revealing themselves in the UK for the first time, and Mancunian bright young things GoGo Penguin just some of the notable trios both familiar and less so to release remarkable albums in both critical and popular terms. It’s an enduring format, and one that despite familiarity continues to exceed expectations whether in a classic incarnation based around the songs of the Great American Songbook or increasingly on newly composed or freshly interpreted original material encompassing a whole new world of inspiration, especially when creative solutions to old musical problems are tackled head on. It’s not just about good tunes, because some of the best jazz is completely abstract and unsingable. But it’s certainly partly about band empathy, that thing about “eye contact”, finishing improvisational lines or, more to the point, anticipating the direction of the music in a live situation to create something anew, that ‘moment’ everyone knows when it comes along.

Capturing that in the studio is an art. Coming up in early-2013 Norwegian piano trio In the Country have given this their best shot by releasing what will be their fifth album. In the Country, that’s pianist Morten Qvenild, bassist Roger Arntzen, and drummer Pål Hausken, marked their upcoming 10-year milestone as an improvising unit since forming at music college in Oslo by travelling to Los Angeles, to the Sunset Sound studio to record what will be titled, fittingly, Sunset Sunrise, after the famed Sunset Boulevard studio where Pet Sounds and other classic albums were recorded. Switching labels from Rune Grammofon to the German ACT label, home to the Vijay Iyer Trio and EST, their debut for Siggi Loch’s company has been mixed by Aimee Mann producer Ryan Freeland, who also mixed and engineered Mose Allison’s The Way of the World. With Australian trio Trichotomy releasing Fact Finding Mission and the Neil Cowley Trio adding finishing touches to the mix of their live album they recorded in Montreux, the early part of 2013 already shows signs that jazz’s enduring fascination with this most creative of formats shows no signs of abating.

Stephen Graham

In the Country pictured top: Roger Arntzen (above left), Pål Hausken, and Morten Qvenild. Photo: Jørn Stenersen/ACT. Sunset Sunrise will be released in March

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Kraftwerk knew a thing or two about robots. ‘We’re functioning automatic/And we are dancing mechanic/We are the robots/We are the robots/We are the robots/We are the robots’, as their song, no prizes for guessing, ‘The Robots’, has it. And come to think of it, so too does Pat Metheny, especially robots that with a little help from him like to improvise.

July’s Unity Band gig at the Barbican heralded the birth of a band for Metheny, the first featuring a saxophone in many years, but it also recalled, with a brief guest appearance, the Orchestrion, the “robot band" Metheny has recorded with before, and debuted in the UK on the same London stage in 2010.

On that first occasion, a hugely risky venture as a tour that was both audacious and a summation of Metheny’s naked, consummate artistry channelled through a sophisticated new instrument, something Metheny couldn’t have possibly dreamt of playing all around the world when as a child he was captivated by old player pianos he had become fascinated with. “People either ask ‘why’ or ‘how’,” Metheny told the audience in 2010 at the concert when he unveiled the Orchestrion from behind a curtain, a bit like a travelling magician would with no small ceremony present a bedazzled rabbit from a hat. “Let’s say the ‘why’ is between me and my shrink,” he joked.

Next month the banks of instruments including ‘bots’, drums, percussion, tuned bottles, marimba, vibes, player pianos and more that make up the Orchestrion are back on a double album called The Orchestrion Project (Nonesuch) with this beautiful beast of an instrument controlled once more by Metheny using foot pedals and a system of hydraulics and solenoids.

The highlight of the original album for me at the time was the lovely ballad ‘Soul Search’, and it appears winningly again this time as the lead track of the second disc of the new double album set to be released on 29 January, following recording sessions back in Brooklyn, where the project all began, some time after the world tour in 2010.

The double album includes all of Orchestrion plus eight more Metheny tunes. It’s clearly more than a passing episode in Metheny’s music (the very different Unity Band recording also features the impressionistic ‘Signals [Orchestrion Sketch]’). With the Pat Metheny Group in the long grass, and Metheny’s work with Lyle Mays an increasingly, if slightly frustratingly, distant memory, this expanded set in some ways is a more satisfying experience than the initial album. Partly it’s because the extra length does justice to the sheer scale of the music, and of course because the music is that bit more familiar.

The guitar bots, many percussion instruments, and cabinets of tuned bottles that you’d swear winked, spookily, on the Barbican stage have more personality through the tweaks and roadtested trials Metheny and his technical team have put these through. You’d want a friendly robot like the Orchestrion on your side if push were to come to shove should a sci-fi dystopia come real. It clearly hasn’t let Metheny down.

Stephen Graham

Pat Metheny and the Orchestrion above