Launch at lunchtime
I love the lunchtime gigs in Soho’s PJC as they simply take you out of the always busy London’s streets and give some break and privacy, time for reflection we all lack these days. This concert however, was more than that to me as it was the launch of the new Tom Arthur’s Trio recording called One Year, which I had a great honour to hear and review here.
As few words of introduction: I am tracking Tom and learning more about his music since he moved to Berlin and joined Julia Hülsmann‘s regular trio, expanding it into the Quartet (ECM). This is when I first time heard his horn and got hooked permanently. The way his presence in the band changed the music so much made me look for more of his music.
I travelled back in time to discover some real Gems, like Postcards for Pushkin (2009) and Mesmer (2006), both recorded in Duo with his long-time friend and music collaborator, pianist Richard Fairhurst, both recorded for Babel label. Those are most important and must be mentioned as they are foundation for what became today The Tom Arthur’s Trio. These Two musical personalities had been already communicating on the stratospheric level before. It only took to find the right drummer to complete the band. Not such an easy task as one might think, watching dates above alone. But here Tom’s Berlin friend in music and regular collaborator, German pianist Marc Schmolling (Marc Schmolling Trio, Hypnosis) came with help and brought attention to the Finnish percussionist Markku Ounaskari – best known for his ECM recordings, and performances with the likes of Tomasz Stanko, Trygve Seim, Arve Henriksen and many more. This is nobody else but him, who sits today behind the piano during the club launch promo set. Knowing their recording together in trio called Ticho, with German singer Almut Kühne I knew that already that he has his own way to communicate with Tom.
Long story short these three musicians are just a match made in heaven when it comes to mutual understanding, what I already mentioned in earlier write up. Let’s jump to the music then.
First, I was curious about to hear most was obviously how the swap of the pianist on set will change the music I already knew from the recording. It was less that I was expecting in fact. Marc has a different touch if compared to Richard. Different pace and lyricism of the words if you wish. Here it came however as close as it gets. Marc is more expressive and harmonically rich. His notes are more bluesy and reverb reach higher amplitudes. But moreover, the music had been all composed (by Tom) and scored so there is no improvisation in it just a freedom given for reading and feeling, which are in this trio fairy shared.
Communication and listening to each other in the group is a core here. And watching just that alone gives one a Goosebumps. Marc and Tom are talking closely, almost whispering, but an amount of the expression which comes to the table takes the breath off. Music is very focused, mostly piano but dynamic goes far beyond the volume.
Marc’s playing makes a canvas for Tom’s gentle touch. His trumpet sounds so smooth and lyrical that it is almost dreamy. The music in fact is very feminine. I really mean it. There is a certain amount of caring about each other’s feeling that makes the listener feels this way. That suits Tom’s gentle nature a lot. I can tell that as he is the man I started to know by his music first before we even have a chance to talk. And more I started to know him the more I could find back projected into his music. This really is as simple as that. It purely is self – expressing more than the creation, projected and vented via his horn as honest and true as it goes.
The experience of the set has a certain effect on the listener. The more you focus on that the more you get wrapped into the sort of the silk cocoon. The tissue surrounding you is gentle and soft, it feels like an air and a calm breeze. Refreshing and comforting, cradling you to rest and fall into it. But stays eternal and removing the sense of the gravity. Once you listen to that in your chair, description fits, but it is hard to feel this that deep, to the same extend once you out in the public. But it happened anyway. What more can I say?
Ant then it is a biggest surprise to come once you open your eyes. Then you see that Trio means Trio and there is a man behind the drums too. More of that he didn’t come in the middle but was always there from the beginning. Here is when we are getting to the true secret formula of this trio, and this is no less but drumming. How did he manage to completely disappear? How is it possible to withdraw his presence from the act to such degree? I don’t know but it happened anyway.
Markku is a phenomenal percussionist. The master of absolute dynamic control. Even if I know him from multiple recordings I never had a chance to see him on the stage till now and this is unforgettable experience. Just watching him playing is fascinating. They could make a silent movie and keep selling tickets for that alone. He uses reduced drum kit with just one Tom and Snare, to few cymbals there is a set of three little gongs added. He most often builds his structure hitting frames, not membranes. You see mallets more often than sticks or brushes. The touch is insanely gentle and the volume perfectly controlled. So are reverbs as dumping drums and waiving a silence between the notes is the part of his game. It looks more like swimming in a slow motion than like a drumming one can imagine himself in his head on demand. The Man is the Monk and his Art is nothing but a mystery, but the fact is that he steals the show. Once you understand that you are immediately aware how important he is. This music without him not only would never be the same, but simply could not happen.
As I said above you can replace the pianist with an equally sensitive musician and we are still in the same ballpark, due to Tom’s personality gluing the whole act together, but honestly: Tom might have other Trios in his carrier and I trust they will be great due his choices and sensitivity, but the one he has got now is the unique quality. Such things do not happen too often and I can tell you that he is aware of that.
The Trio played all 6 tracks which make their Ozella debut recording together, plus few other which were not there, meaning that the story is going to be continued. That makes me exceptionally happy as I am deeply in love with this recording and cannot get enough of it. As an Encore they played a tune called Raise, which makes a bonus on the LP, but is not on the menu of the CD issue. Equally mesmerising and full of charm. The most painful moment was to realise than they had finished the set and it is time to go home. The sensation is of the kind that an infant might experience with a withdrawal syndrome, once taken out of the breast. Seriously that bad. The only way to bare that is getting back home quick and play it back.