Roil formed in 2007, but those familiar with this Australian jazz trio likely know them as a side project of Necks pianist Chris Abrahams. While there are some passing similarities in the way Roil and The Necks deconstruct the piano trio format, Roil has its own distinctive sound. First off, this is a group that works in miniatures, with over half of the pieces on the album clocking in under five minutes long. But more importantly, this trio brings abstracted jazz voicings and quietly nuanced timbral shadings to the foreground, often only hinting at pulse or trajectory in their collective improvisations.
Like The Necks, the technical acumen here is faultless and the three operate with a cleanly honed sense of ensemble, building pieces off of accumulating events rather than through either conversational interaction or collective exploration. It is clear that Abrahams, drummer James Waples and bassist Mike Majkowski are well aware of the traditions they are playing off of, and have made conscious decisions as to what they will leverage and what they will peel away. While the colors, textures, and densities of the pieces are all well-wrought, ultimately, they manage to neither capture the essence of the music they are referencing nor construct striking new ways of reinvention.
Things start out with “Honeydew,” a compact feature for Majkowski’s arco solo with dark, buzzing overtones, which ring out with spare phrasing broken by pauses. Over the course of the 2 ½ minute piece, he builds things up from the resonance of his woody bass as he gradually amps up the length and acceleration of his playing. When Abrahams’ crystalline piano notes and Waples’ cymbal sizzle break in on the following “Costume of Melancholy,” it is as if the clouds have broken; the three slowly ravel a melodic kernel into a freely cycling riff. But rather than build this into any propulsive trajectory, they toy and refract things into a collective study. “The Swinging Treatment” bursts out next, hinting at free jazz propulsion with hammered clusters, simmering drum chatter, and rumbling bass lines, but again, the three eschew the arcing thrust of a free jazz trio, instead breaking the momentum into sections of loose walking meter and volatile freedom.
The set progresses as the three construct pieces from the building blocks of free jazz trio vocabulary and phrasing while subverting the coursing energy of that tradition. Even on longer pieces like “Super Victim” and “Water Servant,” the improvisations are extended through the fragmentation and recontextualization of formal elements, rather than through any sense of forceful drive.