Axis Trio – Anthem (2010)

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by Pico

This past July the Axis Trio released Anthem, and it’s one of those defining records for this young and fledgling jazz threesome.

The Axis Trio is comprised of pianist Amino Belyamani, bassist Sam Miniae and drummer and percussionist Qasim Naqvi. Belyamani is from Morocco, while Miniae is Iranian-American and Naqvi is Pakistani-American. Though the three all have strong Middle Eastern heritages, they cite influences as diverse as from Debussy and Shostakovich, to Coltrane and the Aphex Twins. When I listen Anthem, though, I can almost hear the ghost of Esbjörn Svensson lurking in between the subtle electronic washes and esoteric folk melodies, as the Trio has moved into the void left by his passing. It’s a space where the ideas weren’t close to being exhausted, and this trio exploits untapped possibilities from this newer area of jazz.

Anthem is the Trio’s second album, the first one The Hand having been released in 2008. On that debut album, they already established themselves as a piano trio ensemble that builds upon the foundation established by Evans and Jarrett whereby the drums and bass share equal sonic space with the piano. Like most forward thinking piano trios, they go beyond just that by playing melodies that are more rooted in classical, folk and even rock than jazz. Anthem goes a step further by layering in digital textures that sometimes unsettle the sound and sometimes smooth it out.

Although this is their first time delving into electronics within an acoustic setting, these guys already appear to have it figured out. “Whey It Out” combines jagged, electronically-enhanced rhythmic patterns with unforced and intelligent piano stylings. “Anthem” has a clever arrangement of what sounds like a combination of both hand made and programmed beats merging into this exotic compelling polyrhythm, as Belyamani’s repeated chord completes this evolving, hypnotic shape. Some sampled string arrangement slowly emerges from the mist until it dominates the sound at the end. “…Then It Walked” alternates between a rock riff and a modern jazz motif, and Miniae even approximates a electric guitar solo with amped-up bowed bass. “Eh-Che-Ka” (see video below) would work even without the electronic effects, because the rhythmic meshing between Miniae and Naqvi form the centerpiece of the song. Belyamani’s electronic pops and buzzes add an extra edge to the track without interfering with that interlocking groove.

After the ten tracks all composed by Belyamani comes a fascinating remix of songs from The Hand, called “The Hand That Feeds,” which goes even further into the “electro” side of electro-acoustic. As the “bonus” track, it’s likely not meant to be representative of Anthem as a whole, but it shares in the exploratory spirit of this record.

The best thing about Anthem is that even though their foray into electro-acoustic worked well, there is the strong sense that The Axis Trio hadn’t come close to hitting the ceiling of their potential. They are already working on album #3 and it’s set for release next year. Stay tuned for that one, it could be another big leap forward for this group.

Anthem is distributed by Accretions, an independent record label specializing in experimental music that’s been around for 25 years. Visit the Axis Trio’s website here.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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