As promised after the recent trip to Scotland, here's a review that went into the magazine a few years ago of a CD that features two of the artists we saw in The Voodoo Rooms. My reservations about the blandness of of much of the stuff on the contemporary scene perhaps doesn't come through strongly, perhaps because I was genuinely impressed by the trio's efforts to integrate native folk elements into their music. I was convinced, and given my general skepticism that tells you much...
Stranger Things Happen At C
Ant’s Milk; Station; Oddity; Yet; Sundance; Stuff Swing; The Clock; Fin; Curiouser & Curiouser; Two.
Phil Bancroft (ts, ss); Kevin McKenzie (g); Tom Bancroft (d), perc); Brian Finnegan (whistle).
Fresh from a recent Arts Council Contemporary Music Network tour of England, Trio AAB try something different on this, their third album. Known for post-modernist eclecticism and a puckish sense of humour, their earlier efforts sounded something like Trio Clusone colliding with Frisell/Lovano/Motian, whilst paying homage to Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time. Their approach is rather more subdued on this release, largely due to the presence on five tracks of Celtic whistler Brian Finnegan. He foregrounds a strand in their music that was always present, albeit a little submerged.
The disc’s lively opener ‘Ant’s Milk’, played by just the trio, perfectly illustrates that point, taking a folksy Scottish melodic motif, delivered forcefully on tenor, and placing it above a skittering drum’n’bass inspired rhythmic pattern, further adorned by McKenzie’s intricate harmolodic guitar webs. This is what the trio have built their burgeoning reputation on. ‘Fin’ perhaps gets closest to a true jazz/Celtic folk fusion, with McKenzie switching to acoustic guitar and Tom Bancroft playing bodhran. Brother Phil’s plaintive tenor makes no concessions to the genre, but the result is not dissimilar to some of the best of the music made by Tim Garland’s Lammas. Unlike that group however, the focus is not exclusively Celtic. ‘The Clock’ is more an African sketch (via Don Cherry) than a product of the Glens, though the similarity in timbre between the Irish Whistle and traditional wood flutes is striking. The essential point is that Finnegan sounds at home in the tight-knit unit of Trio AAB, and the music never sounds like a contrived attempt to ‘do’ some heritage.
‘Stranger Things Happen At C’ cleverly avoids a wholesale re-run of the trio’s hitherto successful formula. More a sideways step, it won’t disappoint existing fans precisely because it is such a logical extension of the trio’s long-standing interest in their roots. With a record label that has a goal of documenting jazz particular to its time and place, the Bancroft brothers succeed again with this recommended release.
(Jazz Review, April 2003)