Along with Craig Taborn, Vijay Iyer, Kris Davis, Russ Lossing represents the best and most challenging of the younger crop of jazz (if it can even be called that) pianists. As It Grows, his trio album with bassist Ed Schuller and drummer Paul Motian, lives up to even the loftiest expectations. It's rare to find a musician who can function at such a demanding technical and theoretical level while still maintaining as deep an emotional a connection to his colleagues. As It Grows is made up of 10 nearly epigrammatic pieces, ranging in length from approximately three to eight minutes. Lossing plays mostly in conversation with his partners, seldom moving into traditional piano trio prominence (in fact, it's drummer Motian who rises most frequently in the mix). This is all to the benefit of the music. "Motion Units" alternates between three and four note clusters, dark repeated lower piano figures and off-balance single note explosions. Motian, the most non-linear of drummers, responds with unpredictable thumps — absolutely the right sounds in the right places. "Coyote Jumps" is a three-way, stop-start exchange, with Schuller's bass serving as a rhythmic fulcrum. The trio has an unearthly ability to play with a kind of ersatz swing; they rely on implied pulse more than sustained time, which lends an effective tension to the track.
But there's also a deep lyricism to many of Lossing's lines. For "Nagual," the trio actually does swing — albeit in as menacing a way as possible. The song's propulsion comes from bass and drums, with the pianist playing simple parallel lines above the churn. But somewhere along the way, he changes his approach and really digs in, utilizing the entire range of the keyboard through his solo. The performance is subtle and powerful in equal measure. "Verse," introduced in unison by piano and bass, lets Motian play the kind of moment-by-moment breathing accompaniment that's virtually his patent. Lossing opens up a series of airy chords, then opts for carefully-chosen single notes (it sounds as if he may have been listening to Paul Bley). Schuller shades him almost telepathically, locking perfectly into the theme at one point. The album ends with the "Naturalness," played with near stillness by Lossing, as Motian rustles underneath in double time. The piece stops dead, appears to be over, and then returns with bowed bass, cymbal filigree, snare drum blasts, and an incredible variety of sounds from the piano, ranging from clusters to blindingly fast single note runs to desolate unison lines four octaves apart. It's cryptic and disquieting in its way, but absolutely compelling.