THE TRICHOTOMOUS CHARACTERISTICS of this established Australian piano trio are defined as captivating melody, rhythmic interplay and emotive collective improvisation.
That’s a pretty challenging set of values to live up to, yet pianist Sean Foran, bassist Samuel Vincent and drummer John Parker are master explorers of this traditional and particularly exposed of instrumental line-ups. Indeed, Trichotomy’s fifth album Known-Unknown (following 2013’s more widely collaborative Fact Finding Mission) is anything but a walk in the park. Having been together some eighteen years, they’ve rubbed stylistic shoulders with Avishai Cohen, Phronesis, E.S.T. and a raft of other contemporary bands seeking a musically democratic outlook – but any similarity which might have been considered the ‘elephant in the room’ is politely ushered out of the large side door. Why? Because Foran, Vincent and Parker possess the empathy and desire to keep forging their own identity; and any momentary flickers of the aforementioned (coincidental or otherwise, and often involving judicious electronics) simply raise a smile of acknowledgement and appreciation.
Ten original numbers (the majority written by pianist Foran) are predominantly vigorous, fiery, restless; and, crucially, their pressing momentum and chameleonic interest suggest an ongoing free-spiritedness which keeps these fifty-five minutes alive. Five fulfils all of that with an eager, breezy demeanour, its tensive pauses and melodic freedom easily redolent of Esbjörn Svensson, whilst the molten, repeating piano figures of John Parker’s Cells dissolve to create echoic, electronically enhanced pools of piano and percussion; and edgy, subtly dissonant Junk has grooving jazz at it heart. Rhythmically, Trichotomy are magnificent – Imaginary Limits‘ crisp dance groove fizzes to Parker’s percussion, though its irresistible appeal is undeniably down to all three (Foran’s distorted piano improvisations a delight); and the clattering, push-pull impatience of Asset or Liability feels gloriously anarchic.
The trio’s more calmative moments are no less inviting, partly due to their pervading uneasiness. Samuel Vincent’s softly-malleted, arco-bass Past Tense broods darkly; John Parker’s countrified, fireside folksong, It’s Strange Coming Back, seems quietly anguished. And that same ominousness from the drummer’s pen bursts into the urgent, prepared piano and Fender Rhodes groove of Reverie of Lack – this has alarming drama/thriller written all over it. Foran’s complex piano figure sets up panicky, irascible rock in Semi-Quasars; and levitational Hemmingway closes with snappy though sunnier rhythms enfolding its dreamy central section.
An ‘ear-catcher’ for contemporary piano trio lovers, Known-Unknown, by definition, offers the recognised exhilaration of Trichotomy with a profusion of unpredictable alleyways… and already enjoyed many, many times.
Sean Foran piano, electronics
John Parker drums, percussion, electronics
Sam Vincent double bass, electronics
Challenge Records – CR73439 (2017)