Thursday, January 9, 2020

"Between Two Worlds": Jeff Denson, Romain Pilon and Brain Blade

Jeff Denson, Romain Pilon, and Brian Blade: Between Two Worlds Ridgeway Records
When you think of great jazz trios, you most likely recall piano trios, groups that encourage empathetic interaction and strive to function as one organically unified entity. Groups like Bill Evans trio with Scott La Faro and Paul Motian or Keith Jarrett's trio with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette come to mind.

 In Greek mythology, the  Cerberus  (Three-headed dog with snake tail) and the Chimera ( a combination of the lion, goat, and snake ) were three-headed creatures that incorporated the physical appearances of multiple animals, had three different brains, and at times displayed distinct personalities, but when faced with a single task, the creature would manage to sublimate the three distinct characters within itself and function as a unified being.

Much like the creatures of Greek mythology, in music, when you sublimate yourself as a musician to the unified purpose of the trio, three distinct voices can be alloyed into one coherent and organic voice without sacrificing the individual's identity. In the case of the trio of guitarist Romain Pilon,  double bassist Jeff Denson and drummer Brian Blades on their latest Between Two World, we are treated to three unique and creative musicians who are so in sync that they reach that magical space in music where the trio becomes almost mythical. The music includes ten compositions, five by Pilon and five by Denson.

Denson and Pilon have known each other for twenty years since they both attended Berklee back in the late nineteen-nineties. Drummer Blade first met Denson when the two played on Joel Harrison's Spirit House Band in 2017 and they too have remained connected. The album Between Two Worlds was the culmination of  Denson and Pilon trying to record together and enlisting the ubiquitous, in-demand drummer Blade for the project. It was a dream come true.

The album music is melodic and contemplative. Pilon composed "Sucre," "En Trois Temps," "Generation," "Madrid" and "Azur." Denson's originals on the album include "Song of a Solitary Crow," "Nostalgic Farewell," "Listen Up," "Lost and Found" and "Between Two Worlds."

"Sucré" opens the album up with Pilon's gentle and musical guitar, Denson's floating basslines and Blades precise drums. Pilon and Denson respond well to each other's moves and to Blades's subtle rhymic direction. It's especially rewarding to hear how Denson and Blade coordinate their lines seamlessly as Pilon solos. The music ebbs and flows with grace and fluidity.

"Song of a Solitary Crow" is a gorgeously pensive, cadenced sound that hints at the feel of a solitary outlook's perspective. Pilon's guitar is always sensitive, but he also modulates his sound with Frisell-like echo effects in one section. Denson's bass moves from contemplative to jaunty as Blades accents lightly, guiding without ever overpowering the music.

"En Trois Temps" ( In Three Phases) is a gentle waltz that features some of Denson's more buoyant bass solos. His double bass has a warm, articulate and rich sound that is quite appealing. Blade's drum choices are always unexpected, and he magnificently accompanies the music with subtle aplomb. Pilon's guitar at times recalls the gracious mellifluence of John Abercrombie.

"Génération" is a Pilon composition that features some of the album's most free-flowing three-way communication. It shifts timing and creates sections that seem like the music is being spontaneously improvised, three aligned minds leading each other, discovering new directions as they emerge. Pilon's guitar lines are the most adventurous here.

As the title sounds, "Nostalgic Farewell" is a romantic melody that beautifully projects one of life's poignant memories of saying goodbye to a loved one. Denson's bass solo is particularly moving and Blade's accompaniment on gentle brushes is as sensitive as the moving melody deserves.

"Listen Up" opens with a roiling Blade's drum solo that sets the tone for this shifting, jagged composition. The music moves very freely and is the most abstract of the album. Denson's bass punctuates his notes, as Pilon runs up and down the fretboard. Blade keeps the frenetic tune propelled brilliantly and the trio responds to rapid changing directions in time. This one is impressive.

"Madrid" returns the group to a more melodic path. I love the interplay here. Denson's bass is large and exuberant. Pilon's guitar lays out the melodic direction. Blade's drum work is so subtle and fine as to almost be gossamer-like.

"Lost and Found," a Denson composition, has a jaunty pace that features Denson's astute walking double bass as Pilon's guitar lays out the melody and Blade keeps the locomotion silkily moving forward. Denson's creative bass solo is nicely accompanied by Pilon's comping chord work and Blades restrained trap work. This one grabs your mind.

Denson's title cut "Between Two Worlds" is an atmospheric composition that features Denson's bowed bass work that captures mystery and yearning. Pilon and Blade leave the spotlight on  Denon here and rightfully so, but Pilon's deft guitar lines and Blade's splendid drum work here makes this one an enchanting voyage between two worlds.

"Azur" is the closing, bluesy composition on this surprising album. Pilon's guitar is so melodic and he always plays with confidence and panache. Denson's bass is stedfastly melodic and rhythmic, a lighthouse whose beaming light can fluidly traverse across the atmosphere without ever losing sight of where he grounded. Brian Blade and his uncanny ability to musically create the perfect percussive accompaniment is just a delight,

As Jeff Denson has stated "Playing music is a deeply spiritual experience for me-it is sacred. When it is pure it can be like traveling without moving-a gateway to another world of reality."  
We could all use some spiritual experiences. Give this record a chance and maybe you, like me, will be transported into another and better world of reality.