The folks at Athenaeum Jazz are at it again, filling a summer concert season at the Music & Arts Library with world-class talent that jazz program coordinator Dan Atkinson carefully chooses for maximum impact.
On June 12, it was the Quebec-based pianist Marianne Trudel, leading a trio comprised of double-bassist Etienne Lafrance and percussionist Patrick Graham through two sets of contemplative improvising with a heavy emphasis on melodic exploration over hypnotic rhythmic vamps.
Trudel is a patient improviser, churning out exquisite intervals as Lafrance dug in with the bow over the shimmering cymbals of Graham. Graham played a marvelously reductionist hybrid set that combined familiar elements like ride and splash cymbals and one floor tom, but eliminated many others. Thus, there was no hi-hat, bass drum or snare, yet with a variety of shakers, frame drums and bells, he virtually stole the show on every tune.
The group explored jaunty counterpoint on “Oui,” with Lafrance contributing melodic unisons and a biting solo while Trudel conducted a fine balance between the delicate and the powerful.
There were cavernous spaces in “The River,” which left plenty of room for wide navigation, and after a sudden shift into a burbling ostinato, Trudel let it fly, tattooing individual keys with the rapidity of a panicked stenographer. She also picked up an accordion to pulse funereal harmonies on “Steps” while Lafrance expertly reproduced the sound of wolves howling in the distance with his bow.
The highlight for me came on the flowing folkish energy of a tune I failed to catch the title of, but when it came time for the obvious drum solo, Patrick exceeded all possible expectations with a wild soliloquy that featured tabla beats and rhythmic turnarounds -- all played on a small tambourine. It was a fitting metaphor for his entire concept of getting the most music from limited resources -- proving that it’s the player, not the instrument that matters.
As always, the acoustics in the small listening room were superb -- a concert at the Music & Arts Library is as close to a living-room experience as most people will get, and considering the quality of the performers, it’s very hard to replicate anywhere else.