Jim Black says his new trio purposefully goes in “the opposite direction of AlasNoAxis,” the bristling, rockish ensemble he led for a dozen years, and that the new unit is meant to be more “tactile” and “interactive” and jazz oriented. Missionaccomplished. Somatic is a curious title for such a ruminative collection of tunes, but there is no question that it wants to skew the traditional jazz piano trio form rather than indulge in the slapstick savoir faire that razes the form altogether. While that may put off longtime fans, Black remains an ingenious marvel even in this quieter, more elliptical context.
In some respects, Somatic feels like a Paul Motian album. Motian, the late, legendary drummer who recorded extensively for the Winter & Winter label, was a master of the gentle ambush, and of seeming to imply rather than directly state the themes and motifs of his music. The much-in-demand bassist in the Jim Black Trio, Thomas Morgan, played often with Motian (and Steve Coleman, David Binney, John Abercrombie…), and knows how to create the tenuous but still spontaneous intensity Black seems to be going for here. The third member is Elias Stemeseder, a young, conservatory-trained Austrian pianist, whose deep tonality appealed to Black and accounts for the ruminative feel of many of the songs.
All that said, Somatic strolls and swings as much as it ponders, and longtime fans looking for adrenaline should check out “Beariere” for its welter of beats and rhythmic combinations, and “Protection” for Black’s signature ability to perform the rhythmic equivalent of Fred Astaire faux-stumbling from dance move to dance move. There are treats all over Somatic if your ears take the time to let the music unwrap them.