Jazz CD Reviews

The Odd Trio – Birth of the Minotaur – Odd Trio Records

What’s the connection between a weird bull in a maze, a science fiction hero and a bottle of whiskey? The Odd Trio.

Published on August 20, 2012

The Odd Trio – Birth of the Minotaur – Odd Trio Records

The Odd Trio – Birth of the Minotaur – Odd Trio Records CD-0002, 61:26 [7/31/12] ***1/2:

(Brian Smith– electric guitar, vocals; Marc Gilley – soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophone; Todd Mueller – drums)

Despite their name, guitarist Brian Smith, saxophonist Marc Gilley, and drummer Todd Mueller are not really an odd trio. They perform material which is not necessarily straight and true, but mostly the Athens, GA threesome follows a recognizable jazz template with a modernistic determination: they know jazz traditions but add fresh twists to their 12 originals, and keep things lively but not so outside of the envelope that jazz fans will turn away. Quite the contrary, the trio’s 61-minute sophomore album, Birth of the Minotaur, offers enough melodic and harmonic progressions, fluctuating rhythmic time signatures and improvising to attract most liberal jazz listeners.

Someone in the group has a penchant for Greek mythology (maybe it has to do with living in Athens?).  Almost all of the material has connections to Greek gods, goddesses, folklore and legends: other tracks allude to SF film, mass media and even drinking, which proves even jazz artists appreciate Athens is a college party town. The record opens with a four-part suite which includes the title track, organized in a scheme similar to classical music: allegro, song, dance (scherzo) and finale (both Smith and Mueller perform in classical music groups). That’s not to say, though, that this is a jazz-classical, third-stream hybrid. The suite initiates with the enthusiastic, wooly “Raucous Bacchus” (Bacchus is the Roman designation for the Greek god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness and ecstasy). This piece is unmistakably stimulated by New Orleans music, particularly The Meters’ funkiness. Gilley employs baritone sax to get a low-down, gritty tonality which fits in just right, while Smith supplies some equally earthy sounds and a firm, melodic groove. The suite’s second portion, “Persephone’s Pomengrante,” refers to the tribulations of the agrarian goddess and queen of the underworld. This contains an ostinato bass line over which Gilley and Smith improvise in ever increasing evolutions, until Smith’s guitar is brashly screaming in the foreground while Gilley adds a descending, calmer sax line. “Pasiphae’s Wild Ride,” the suite’s third unit, is just as advertised: a spray-saturated slice of West Coast surf rock/jazz with plenty of Dick Dale-drenched guitar reverb and whomping, Sandy Nelson-styled drumming. The previous three tunes reach fruition on the title track, where Gilley’s intensified soprano sax contrasts with and sometimes matches Smith’s boisterous six-string shrieks (ostensibly the voice of the man-bull in the maze).

Stepping away from the Mediterranean, The Odd Trio takes a side trip to cinema with the atmospheric to noisy “Deckard’s Dream,” which symbolizes some of the nonliteral aspects of the main character, played by Harrison Ford in Ridley Scott’s classic 1982 dystopian SF film, Blade Runner. The cut commences with muted percussion, reverbed guitar and moody sax which emulate some of the Vangelis soundtrack elements, then gradually modifies to a stormy epicenter which captures the movie’s underlying menace, and then returns to the opening moderation. One of the longer works is the cyclic “Information Fatigue,” inspired by the barrage of mass media and other factors which can result in sensory overload. The trio utilizes a minimalist compositional method to generate a dense, but fluctuating, rhythmic characteristic, with heavy metal flourishes which advance near the number’s conclusion. Both hard rock and funk components rear up again on “Whiskey,” a blending of John Zorn-esque sax roughness with fusion/rock guitar tendencies: think if Zorn and Allan Holdsworth battled it out on stage while using a funk-inclined rhythm section. Birth of the Minotaur makes for an off-center, irregular and unpredictable experience but one well worth exploring. When was the last time Greek goddesses, a SF hero and a bottle of alcohol were rounded up and thrown into a musical mix?

TrackList: Raucous Bacchus; Persephone’s Pomengrante; Pasiphae’s Wild Ride; Birth of the Minotaur; Perseus (5-7-8); Deckard’s Dream; Information Fatigue; Sunday Morning Improvisation; Ricio De Mare; Whiskey; Sleeping Ariadne; Raucous Bacchus (Coda).

—Doug Simpson




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