On their third album this trio from the sunny state of Brisbane, Australia, continue to play a contemporary jazz that might please fans of classical piano, along with listeners interested in an at-times free-wheeling, often emotive strand of jazz drawing from a range of traditions. There are hints of the great impressionist pianists in the ballads, little moments of avant-leaning jazz and snaky rhythmic passages where the drums, bass and piano lock together and are intercut with optimistic passages that turn a piece around midstream.
Elsewhere you get the feeling that the music wouldn’t sound out of place in a road trip movie or a film of some dramatic substance – ‘Start’ comes to mind, where the trio are assisted by a guest string section in evoking a sense of panic.
The fusion of styles on 'Variations' is held together by pianist Sean Foran’s classical influences, he has a manner of playing that doesn’t exactly evoke the Third Stream genre but more perhaps, as I’ve suggested earlier, an impressionist classical pianist who can also play jazz. This feel is supported by often minimalist instrumentation from Parker and Marchisella (on drums and bass respectively), who in a piece like ‘Please’ keep their contributions subtle, never crowding the piano.
Things get much snappier at times, like in ‘Variations on a Bad Day’ where the group build and release tension quickly, in a kind of madcap dance of a piece – where Marchisella turns on the distortion and Foran jabs at the keys – though the pianist does so again with yet more abandon on ‘Chunk.’ For the quieter side to the band, there are the equally representative pieces like the sombre ‘At the Right Moment’ or my favourite ‘Ascent’ which at times brings Keith Jarrett’s ‘Koln Concert’ to mind, only in a more composed manner and enhanced by Peter Knight’s muted trumpet. Knight, a top Australian jazz artist in his own right, does just enough here to add that extra mournful element, as does a whisper of electronics.
Running over an hour, the album is often exploratory, and while not every piece is as memorable as say ‘Branching Out’ or ‘Ascent’, this is certainly a great album of modern jazz that’s worth a listen for fans of the piano in particular. Released on quality Australian label Jazzhead, ‘Variations’ is a high point for the trio, who followed it up with the similar but slightly less enjoyable ‘The Gentle War.’ As I type the band are in the studio working on their next release, under new name ‘Trichotomy.’