Paul Plimley, Barry Guy, Lucas Niggli, Hexentrio

Charles Farrell

By Charles Farrell

on 10.05.12 in Reviews

If you can imagine a discussion among three people, each of whom thinks at blinding speed, then you’ve got some idea of what to expect when listening to Hexentrio, the trio album featuring pianist Paul Plimley, bassist Barry Guy and drummer Lucas Niggli. Plimley and Guy both have decades-long histories of spontaneous improvisation, and Niggli, the chronological junior member, is as adept in the art as his colleagues. I’m accustomed to these players “going long,” improvising single pieces for 30 or more minutes, so it’s fascinating to hear them perform 17 pieces, many of them no more than three or four minutes.

Three virtuosi playing with a feeling of selflessness

Brevity varies their tonal palette; you occasionally hear more “jazz,” replete with conventional time playing, walking bass, and left hand chords/right hand single lines from the piano, than you might expect. There is also a lot of titanic outside playing, as well as pieces of great stillness and delicacy. Although all three men are clearly virtuosi, there’s a pervasive feeling of selflessness that runs through this beautifully-recorded album. There are also pieces like “Flo Vi Ru” that feature a dizzying array of figure/ground moments, the players alternately shifting primary voice functions with segments of densely textured egalitarianism. It’s visceral, yet it’s music requiring genuine intellect. Plimley and Guy perform an impressive ballad with “Arcdesdo.” It’s difficult to maintain a ballad form while playing a lot of fast notes (it would seem an oxymoron), but it works here because the underlying clarity of theme below the speed is so easily discernible.

“Iron Works” is like a spiritual descendent of Duke Ellington’s Money Jungle – the sensational trio consisting of Charles Mingus and Max Roach. There’s a history of jazz written into this kind of playing. Each musician leaves an impression. Niggli can play with immense drive and power, as in the piece just referenced, but he is a master colorist too. His attention to detail on “Mutualita” is a case in point. Guy is among the most resourceful bassists ever, equally adept at arco or pizzicato, and capable of switching between the two with unsettling dexterity. On “Lightly Skirting the Pedals” he is able to support the entire chordal structure of the composition through double and even triple stopping. Plimley can maintain nearly impossible articulation even at the most daunting of tempos, as he does on “Flutterby.” And when all three players pull out all the stops during the shattered glass of “Hurly Burly,” they produce music of overwhelming authority and power.