With an abundance of material emanating from the USA, the UK and Europe, relatively little is heard of Australia’s contribution to jazz. There is of course the phenomenal improvising group The Necks, but they are very much a singular act refusing to fit into preconceived categories. Trichotomy, the trio of pianist Sean Foran, drummer John Parker and bassist Patrick Marchisella operate somewhat more comfortably into the contemporary jazz sphere, and have done much to raise the profile of Australian jazz.
The market is of course already saturated with piano trios and it could be argued that, although highly skilled, Trichotomy have not quite marked out their own take on the music quite clearly enough. There’s a sense of them having drawn some of their urgency and restlessness from The Bad Plus, some of their simpler, more direct melodies from est and a countermelodic exploration from Brad Mehldau. Fact Finding Mission is certainly their strongest and most diverse set to date and there is a palpable confidence and clarity in these recordings.
The album opens typically enough, with the restless energy of Strom, built around an infectious left hand figure which doubles as the bass line. This is the first of a few explorations of asymmetrical time signatures, with the group showing particular preponderance for grooves in 7. This is familiar territory for any contemporary jazz aficionado, but it works when combined with the warmth and openness with which Trichotomy approach their music.
The band tend to place their improvisations within the context of energetic rhythmic bustle or appealing melodies. For example, Song For EV begins with a touching, engaging theme with plenty of harmonic movement, before Foran’s gleeful interaction between right and left hand takes the music somewhere else during his solo.Parker’s drum solo not only provides some rhythmic trickery, but also makes full use of his plentiful resources – a range of cymbals providing wide variety of timbre and attack.
The Blank Canvas shows what can happen when an empathetic, well rehearsed group limits its palette. The solo section is open, based largely around a one note riff, and the musicians (including the delightful, incisive guest guitarist James Muller) all adopt distinctive approaches to the improvisation. It has a visceral thrill that cuts through any stereotypes of improvised music being a largely cerebral pursuit. Perhaps the greatest range comes with Civil Unrest, which begins with suspenseful jew’s harp against an insistent groove, before branching out into unexpectedly spacious mood music and an exciting, fluid solo from James Muller.
Taking the trio further from the more conservative confines of what might constitute jazz, the immediate and enjoyable title track incorporates the sampled voices of politicians promising to unearth facts or get to the truth. These soundbites are very cleverly integrated into the music to the extent that it feels as if the instrumental parts are in conversation with them – or perhaps responding to expose the hollowness of such bold or dishonest claims. It’s one of many expansive, open-hearted developmental gestures on this album.