The Squid’s Ear review by Paul Serralheiro

Tom Rainey Trio – Pool School (CF 185)  These three musicians seem to be having a romping good time in their metaphorical poolside interactions here. Released on the Portuguese label Clean Feed, this meeting of two New Yorkers (Rainey and Mary Halvorson) and a German saxophonist with an international profile (Ingrid Laubrock) is music with a footing in the traditions of experimental improvisation, but which resonates with the timbres and idiomatic elements of jazz.

The pieces are mainly short, concise, watertight, developing fragments of ideas in a tumble of inspired momentum. Rainey’s punchy drumming seems to provoke guitarist Halvorson to some hot shredding, as in the opening minute of “Three Bag Mary” and in the bubbling “Coney,” and saxophonist Laubrock (soprano and tenor) feels equally moved and blows some energetic lines in the same piece. The trio twists and turns in sympathetic fashion throughout, and pieces develop in surprising ways, even though they are all rather short.

In this rather spare drums-guitar-sax instrumental setting, Rainey at times takes on the role of bass player as well as drummer, like in the title piece, where he emphasizes the lower drums in a short duo with Laubrock, or in “Om on the Range” where he underscores the quiet, meditative material.

Halvorson’s guitar chops show dramatic variety as in the opening arpeggios of “More Mesa,” which provides quite a contrast to her more Derek Bailey-like sparkling, or quasi Wes Montgomery glowing chordal textures. The guitarist’s palette includes intervallic savvy, textural boldness, with little recourse to the crutch of electronics, coaxing from her Guild arch-top sounds that would have Charlie Christian nodding in approval. She kicks in some poignant intervals, rich chords and at times silky, at times barbed lines, as the music seems to need.

“Semi-Bozo” has some nice volume-control work from Halvorson and some of the most subtle drumming from Rainey, while Laubrock plays in more subdued, rich and airy lower partials in the intro, before launching into a freely evolving flight where everyone rips apart the constraints set out in the opening moments to show how improvised music can be many things, even within the confines of motivic coherence that musicians set for themselves.

“Crinckles” is Laubrock in raw expressionism a-la Braxton supported by her trio mates, each going their way, but keeping abreast all the way along…like three jets in showy flight patterns. The burly abilities of Laubrock can’t be understated as she shows she has the chops and imagination to play this music full-tilt, as in the screaming abandon of the aforementioned “Semi-Bozo,” and in the pliant, suave strains she sets down in the duo section of “Heymana.”

While this is clearly a trio effort where everyone comes out strongly, in the 12 cuts and nearly one hour of music, Rainey proves to be a sensitive, yet commanding performer/leader who knows how to provide space for his sidemen while directing traffic when needed. The result is an exciting offering.

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