Whenever a piano trio employs electronic effects on a recording, as The South Trio does on Elegy For A Raver, unavoidable comparisons are drawn to the stylings of modern jazz legends Esbjorn Svensson Trio. That’s too simple and a bit misleading: The most alluring aspect of E.S.T. was in their delicacy, that no matter how raucous the music got, beneath it was a fragile melody. The South Trio ain’t composing songs made of china. Elegy For a Raver storms the ears with the subtlety of stadium rock, and the resulting anthems provide every excuse to bounce your head and stomp your foot.
From the opening notes of “Balls In the Air,” the trio runs the listener over with a ferocious rhythm section and sharp piano lines; the electronic flourishes are the screeching of tires in two consecutive tunes in which the band embraces a raver aesthetic with genuine good cheer. Slurred chords are shot out with industrial precision and a party-time atmosphere dominates the album. On “Sparky Limps In,” the trio takes a modern ragtime piece and drops it into the middle of a sci-fi convention; jittering piano lines accompanied by alien laser gun effects. Beginning with “Hand On the Pillow,” the second half of the album settles into a jazz-rock fusion not unlike Ben Allison’s body of work, layering Lego blocks of melody atop one another, with the thematic expansions building intensity through repetition and not volume.
Recognized as jazz for its improvisation and experimentalism more than its strict adoption of tradition, it’s easy to imagine that Elegy… could become a focal point in the ongoing “Is it jazz?” debate. Less likely to be argued is Elegy…‘s status as a fiercely ecstatic listen, and recognition of The South Trio as a band to keep track of as it performs its balancing act on the fringes of jazz.