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Noah Rosen Trio - Trips, Jobs & Journeys

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Artist: Noah Rosen Trio

Album: Trips, Jobs & Journeys

Label: Cadence Jazz

Review date: Jun. 11, 2003

Ivory Hunter

The piano’s eighty-eight keys are a well-traveled tract. While innumerable fingers trod their surfaces in search of a signature sound, only a select few succeed in discovering the Grail of individuality. Noah Rosen, a transplanted Parisian these days, started his quest in the early Eighties, studying with such jazz luminaries as Bill Dixon, Milford Graves and pianist turned mbira specialist Nadi Qamar at Bennington College. Two decades later comes his debut recording as a leader, an effort awarded an enviable seal of approval by Andrew Hill, with whom Rosen also had the pleasure of working with during his formative years.

Recorded in near-optimum acoustics, Trips, Jobs and Journeys presents five sizeable slabs of extended improvisation cloaked in compositional frameworks that are deceptive in their musical guises. Initially, Rosen’s prominent role as leader seems to take center stage. So much so that his colleagues, bassist Didier Levallet and drummer Makoto Sato, blend into the background as supports for the pianist’s more dominant musings. But careful listening reveals an underlying equality in place between the three men. While Rosen’s patterns and lines do occupy much of the foreground, bass and drums are also shaping crucial harmonic and rhythmic features along the edges. Sato works in a manner reminiscent of a free-improv friendly Shelly Manne, shirking easy bombast for fine-spun detail that still conveys a propulsive tension, while Levallet approaches his strings from a percussive angle that further expands the trio’s rhythmic versatility.

On the opening track “Trips” Rosen makes ample use of repetition, dismantling a limited clutch of thematic shapes, but never to the point of prolix excess. Each tangential trajectory fits logically into the over-arching architecture, which materializes in cell-like spates. Sato’s scuttling sticks strafe over snare and cymbals and releasing a rain-like patter of beats and as Rosen’s cresting clusters gain greater volume the drummer follows suit, stoking the momentum to a fever pitch, but again without resorting to noisy pyrotechnics to get the job done.

With the two “Journey” pieces the trio’s lyrical tendencies gain even greater girth through the sectional development of several Rosen-sketched motifs. Their episodic anatomy contributes to an impression of grander schemes at work; an ambitious excursion undertaken that resolves through a long and winding course. But the three travelers are not caught in the wilds without a map. An element of order underscores even the most frenetic and spontaneous passages without sounding sterile or academic. Instead, the trio concentrates hard on a collective voice and achieves one that subsumes individualism in favor of an inclusive, plenary whole.

The sprawling “Jobs” brings the shared precision to a slow and volatile boil as Rosen stuttering chords lurch forward on a choppy harmonic current crafted by Levallet’s knotty plucks and Sato’s jittering stick shots. It’s the only piece that comes close to overstaying its welcome, but Rosen wisely varies palette with rhapsodic, almost stride-like flourishes that flesh out the more static passages. Early on, Levallet does his part with whirring bow trading in brief, but searing arco scribbles.

Though a late bloomer to the studio, Rosen’s initial entry suggests that his time away from the microphones was worth it. From a purely discographical vantage he’s got some catching up to do. This first feather will hopefully lead to others for an artistic cap that deserves its share more than most. As to that signature sound – to these ears he sounds well on his way.

By Derek Taylor

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