Trio AAB are recognised in the UK as “one of the most interesting contemporary small groups” “(The Guardian). Their first album, Cold Fusion, was unexpectedly and delightfully picked as Jazz album of 1999 by BBC Radio 3′s Jazz on 3. Since, they have been steadily building their reputation as ‘the most complete mix of invention and originality’ (The Times) during live performances around the UK. These include a festival stealing turn at the Bath Festival last year, and an acclaimed collaboration with free-jazz legend Oliver Lake at the Edinburgh International Jazz Festival this summer.
Trio AAB’s music celebrates the art of improvisation. Arguably, improvisation has always been Jazz’s first unique selling point, (with ‘swing’ as the second). For some, improvisation has become a display of power and mastery over an instrument, or over musical genres from the jazz tradition. Harmonic sequences become athletic tracks or golf courses round which an elite can display their prowess.
Trio AAB believe improvisation can be a less insecure art form than this; contemporary, human and personal- more akin to the way children play, the way people talk, tell their stories and interpret their reality (both around them and inside them) at any given moment in time. Trio AAB’s bass-free format creates a sense of space and light in which the three musicians stretch out to such an extent that the lack of bass is invisible and forgotten. Like the Bill Evans Trio with Scott La Faro, their commitment to collective improvisation shifts the focus of the listener away from the soloist, to the awareness of the group moving and creating music together.
These three musicians are powerful and developed solo voices. This album is bubbling over with totally ‘on the money’ improvisation, saturated with swing and groove and bejeweled with the sound of musicians having fun throwing ideas about without fear: just letting the ideas flow. Their deep awareness of, and involvement with, structure and form is clear in the music but also reflected in the group’s name. In musical notation, AAB represents two things the same followed by something different- mirroring the group’s line up of two identical twins, Phil and Tom Bancroft, and a Kevin MacKenzie. More importantly, their involvement with structure is proved in the uncanny way in which the trio work together to produce music with real drama, pace, tension, sudden twists and turns, and releases- just as if it were composed in advance.
Of the compositions on this album only two (‘It Could Have Been’ and ‘Flowers for Jim’) have a conventional fixed harmonic sequence or circuit, round which the musicians do their improvising laps. The rest of the songs are more linear experiences, where the band usually play a composition and then head off on a story-telling journey with nothing planned in advance, carried along by a deep sense of groove. The second track, ‘Jam’, is the first thing that happened in the studio, when the musicians simply picked up their instruments and played.
Like Cold Fusion, a host of influences are discernible here; Ornette Coleman, echoes of the guitar sound of Jeff Buckley, a continuing taste of drum ‘n’ bass and dance music, a sprinkle of punk and rock, shades of be-bop and jazz, the interplay of Scofield and De Johnette for example, or Lovano and Motian. Many other styles are echoed in the obsession with repetition and rhythmic interplay that abound. It remains, as with their first album, a fearless forward-looking statement on the reality of what this music can be at this point in its development.