Received jazz wisdoms are peremptorily dispatched by this album – as often happens with the Leo Records label, which this year celebrates 25 years of showcasing jazz and new improv from the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe. This remarkable trio features an African-American inspired by a strange confection of Coltrane, Paul Desmond and 20th-century classical music, a Hungarian free-jazz pianist influenced as much by Béla Bartók as by Thelonious Monk or Cecil Taylor, and the former percussionist with the Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra. It was also recorded live in a location that hardly trips off the tongue in most surveys of international jazz haunts – the 2003 Festival of Jazz and Improvised Music at Kanizsa, in Serbia-Montenegro. But it’s a testament to the extent to which the free-jazz of the past half-century has, in its own uncompromising way, internationalised the music at least as creatively as conventional jazz language.
The collective mix of virtuosity and attentive collaboration, the blend of folk music and art music, and the fascinating evolutions of jazz phrasing, composition, improv and swing, make Triotone a much more absorbing hour’s listening than might be expected from three such dedicated avoiders of conventional accessibility. Not that Anthony Braxton’s chemistry of explosive, quirkily accented phrasing, squalling intensity or tremulous, long-note delicacy is much further away from the edge of the envelope than usual, but he’s corralled within the excellent Szabados’s more lyrically designed composing for much of the time, and Tarasov’s startlingly liquid sound and sensitivity to the dynamics around him are masterly.
Well over half the set consists of an extended Szabados suite, opening with fragile and spacy cymbal touches and castanet-like clatters, breathy sax tones and slowly building piano chords, then a sonorously patient six-note motif followed by a collective improvisation swelling to washes of piano sound and whooping horn lines, and resolving in an exhilarating free-jazz blast after a folksy closing theme. The following Black Toots – also by Szabados, whose absence from almost all authoritative jazz books is a major oversight – is more Americanised and Monkish. The three short free improvs that close the set explore Braxton’s raw-toned multiphonics against tinklingly minimalist commentary from the others, the saxophonist’s dreamily free-lyrical aspect (on the beautiful Improvisation 2) and grippingly dramatic head-on intensity over Szabados’s flowing piano at the end. Even rabid, free-jazz opponents might get its message.