By Derek Taylor
Political awareness and attendant action have always been principal parts of the Trespass Trio’s purview. The Swedish-Norwegian ensemble’s music evinces direct antecedents in the Fire Music of 1960s as filtered through the European experience. They’re also passionate storytellers, picking topical sources of inspiration that reflect both struggle and emancipation. The Spirit of Pitesti takes a specific slice of sad history from the titular Romanian town to paint a sound picture of ideologically-driven repression and its consequences on a very human populace. Post-WII, a prison there was host to a series of penal experiments by the Communist government designed to engineer a psychological means of absolute obedience. The efforts of course failed, but the costs on the convicts were extreme.
The program is brief at barely 36-minutes, but potent in its consistent mood and mein. Two takes of “Sounds & Ruins” which sandwich the program unfold like a woebegone Mingus dirge with Per Zanussi’s bass strings strumming a somber ostinato and drummer Raymond Strid stamping a slanted martial cadence over which Martin Kuchen blows a dour and downcast baritone line. The title piece traces another melancholy motif for baritone and arco bass with Strid adding measured accents on cymbals struck and bowed. “In Tears” does little to leaven the prevailing air of despondency with more mournful baritone musings over brushed drums and a sedate, if steady, bass thrum. Zanussi’s anchoring solo brings an even weightier disposition to bear, his patterns bringing to the imagination the grim visages and crestfallen stares of inmates under the shadows of an iron cell grate.
Brisk and comparatively bright, “Fri Kokko” offers some respite from earlier penal doldrums. Kuchen blows loquaciously on aerated alto and scribbling sopranino separate and simultaneously, as Zanussi and Strid shape a scampering, skewed swing beat beneath him. The reprieve proves short-lived as “Centers” brings the listener back behind figurative bars with another disconsolate horn line threaded around another sorrowful bass drone. Strid’s contributions are once again textural, heightening the tension while avoiding anything resembling a conventional rhythmic count. Points are definitely scored for consistency of purpose, but album’s almost complete absence of levity and light while utterly intended is still a bit of an encumbrance to the experience as a whole.