Those searching for an oasis of tranquility would be best placed looking as far away from here as possible. The music of Leeds group trioVD provides the rudest of awakenings at a peerless level of intensity. It is rather difficult to determine exactly what trioVD is – is it a contemporary jazz group (their debut album won a number of ‘jazz album of the year’ awards), a rock band, or as it has rather succinctly and conveniently been termed, an example of ‘power jazz’. Whatever it is – it bursts from the blocks with pulverising force. It will inspire either devotion or aggravation in audiences – indifference to this is simply not an appropriate response.
Following swiftly on from X, their brilliant X Factor-themed EP from late last year, MAZE is arguably even stronger and heavier than their previous efforts. On the opening Brick, the group sound like Battles turned up to eleven. Elsewhere, they draw from the worlds of punk and metal and, in their moments of relative restraint, from the more adventurous end of the electronic and found sound spectrum (particularly on Ups and the first half of the Interlocking).
The band play may play at a heightened level of intensity, but they never seem to lose focus. Even the elements presumably recorded live sound as if they could be the programmed result of a mathematical genius. Rather than exploring one key idea, they often throw all their darts at once, without ever losing an overriding sense of coherence and security. Many of these tracks are skittery, jumbled maelstroms of wild inspiration. Unlike much contemporary jazz, they rarely stretch out in long improvised passages. Everything here is mercilessly concise and ruthlessly edited.
There is, however, a very strong musical presence here. Although strong melody is not the prime concern, sound, rhythm, time, texture and execution are all explored in great depth during these short pieces. Their approach to the latter is a precision approaching the level of military discipline. Every beat is placed with total commitment and accuracy. Exploring Morse code seems a natural experiment for a band so interested in unusual rhythm and in the disguises of language. Guitarist Phil Robson got their first with his Immeasurable Code album from last year, but trioVD’s code-inspired journey is considerably more frazzled, weird and disorientating.
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the ensemble’s sound is Christophe de Benezac’s approach to saxophone playing. Rather than floating or soaring above the music with melodic lines and carefully constructed improvised lines, the saxophone seems entirely integrated with the rhythmic and sonic attack, often working alongside or in dialogue with Chris Sharkey’s guitar, particularly on the jagged, stuttering lines of Ups. Only on Ducks is the saxophone foregrounded (against a backdrop of mechanical electronic noise) and permitted to take flight – but this seems like a necessary and helpful change of texture and mood. Elsewhere, the constant variation and shifting textures are brilliantly directed by the range of sounds Chris Bussey draws from his drum kit.
They arguably save the best for last with the brilliant closer Pet Shop Boys which, at least on the surface, appears to be an affectionate peaen to pop music’s infectious ostinatos and rhythm driven urgency. It is of course all presented entirely in keeping with trioVD’s style found throughout the album – there are sudden blasts of unexpected noise and they find room for plenty of rhythmic trickery.
For anyone interested in displays of technical prowess, Maze will be an embarrassment of riches – and it’s easy to see it appealing to fans of metal as much as it might appeal to an audience interested in the wilder fringes of contemporary jazz. It has an unnerving, visceral impact – it is fragmentary, destabilising and confounding but all in the best possible way. MAZE seems like an apt title – it invites with promises of thrills and entertainment, but its meticulous detail is so extensive that escaping might not be so easy.