Outliers

If ever there was a candidate for some enterprising major label scout on the look out for a well established band to sign up and add to their roster then Stephan Crump’s Rosetta Trio are that act. 

On 19 February bassist Crump’s trio return with their fourth album which is titled Outliers to be released on the Papillon Sounds label.

The trio have always stood out, quietly constructing their own approach, and which involves their harnessing of loose and lucid jazz tinged flavours and in the rear view mirror the wide open spaces of rural America aligning it slightly with some of Bill Frisell’s investigations in the area.

And like Frisell Crump is not afraid to take the road less travelled and while accessible there is always something of a puzzle in just how harmonically the group are going to resolve their themes which certainly keeps you listening.

Best known for his work with Vijay Iyer, Crump manages to make his bass seem ever bigger than it is both tonally when exposed and when he hides himself beneath the huddle of guitar textures.

Opening with ‘In Waves’ the trio journey from the melodic to a less certain hinterland, the chord changes becoming testier and the distance between each of the players shrinking to produce even greater intimacy. This album thrives on the up close and personal. ‘Re Eyes’, following, slows things right down and the tune seems to boil down to pure vibration to eventually bounce up the guitar line brightly and confidently when it emerges, a kind of counterpoint ensuing between guitars and bass as the improvising lines intertwine and strand by strand make a sound collage that makes sense out of all the fractured segments the trio create.

Thinking back to an earlier album of theirs like Thwirl this is somehow picking up where their earlier ideas left off, because this is like another chapter rather than some sort of sequel. Those quixotic welcome solos that just seemed to happen, like a remark someone interesting might have made in the course of a conversation, again are the order of the day from Crump and guitarists Liberty Ellman and Jamie Fox.

Rosetta are certainly more about the pastoral than a big city urban sound and certainly all three know how to channel their emotions say on ‘Middle March’ and the bluesy ‘Dec 5’ pieces written for Crump’s late brother, Patrick, a dedicatee of earlier album Rhombal.

The title track ‘Outliers’ is a tense account that nevertheless thrives on momentum as descending and ascending intervals run against each other in clashing tonalities and invigorate the tiny microscopic differences between individual melody lines for a certain piquancy. This track is closest to the Iyer sound, the clusters and collisions helping to create a post-modern world that fractures and transforms.

‘Synapse’ has a strumming swagger to begin with before Crump sets the mood with a solo bass figure that is then heated up by the other two players in a frazzle of notes, again the woozily tart anti-melody resets your ears and the piece thrives on a battle on the borderlands of melody and conventional tonality.

Liberty Ellman tune ‘Cryoseism’ contains the ache and passion of a Charlie Haden-type sound world and like all the tunes here retains a sense of freedom and experimentation without being too self-conscious about it. ‘Away From, A Way To’ which goes back to a 1997 Crump album called Poems and Other Things gets another run-out and has a freshness to its voicings that would sit well with say the mood summoned by Pat Metheny on Bright Size Life.

‘Esquima Dream’ at the end again sits well with the Metheny comparison, a driving soundscape feel to it that I can easily imagine electrified and scaled up in a jazz-rock setting but its power remains in the understatement as much as its potential. A big strength of the Rosetta trio is the way the trio use unconventional improvisational methods to achieve both strong rhythmic and melodic results. They manage to say things that resound and hit home while speaking in a veritable whisper. And that is so rare and welcome a quality. SG