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.
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
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.
Pat Metheny and the Orchestrion above