Toronto-based pianist Chris Donnelly has made two records so far, and both of them are solo piano records (Solo (2009) and Metamorphosis (2011). We now finally get to hear how this inventive musician interact with other musicians with the first album by Myriad3, a trio he recently formed with fellow Ontarians Dan Fortin (bass) and Ernesto Cervini (drums).
Myriad3 isn’t a Donnelly vehicle, however, this is a truly democratic group. “We’ll each bring a tune in with an idea of how the song is going to go, but then we really workshop the tunes and let them develop,” reveals Cervini. Bringing to bear interests and backgrounds in jazz, classical, rock and more, Donnelly, Fortin and Cervini come up with an alchemy strongly rooted in jazz, but with the gumption to go just about anywhere.
Right off, from the opening “Myriad,” it becomes clear that Myriad3 might play a straightforward piano/bass/drums setup, but they won’t play in a straightforward way. Oh sure, the song may open as a breezy waltz, but then it moves through moods like scenes in a play, ebbing and flowing in discreet ways so as to not knock you flat on your ass but more than enough to keep your attention. “Drifters” likewise runs through a range of moods, but without being very subtle about it. “Fractured” presents competing harmonic lines between the left and right hands of Donnelly, Fortin’s bass keeping that left hand pattern going as Donnelly solos. Like “Fractured,” “For The Drummers” unfolds slowly, concludes suddenly after arcing up to a tumultuous peak.
Those are just minor — and charming — eccentricities, compared to what comes next. Ellington’s “C Jam Blues” is an impish take on Duke’s blues standard. The songs takes sharp turns from a normal start about 45 seconds in, fooling you into thinking someone was continuously hitting the ‘next’ track button on a set of completely different blues jazz tunes, with the band speeding it up and slowing it down. A careening ride through schizophrenia that ends as unassuming as it started.
The two-part “Disturbing Inspiration” is a collision of ideas. In the first part, two melodic thoughts, one mildly tense and the other peaceful, compete for space, the combo switching from one to the other seemingly at random. As the music progresses into Part 2, a simple bass vamp quickly becomes more complex and layered, and Cervini makes it explosive, too. “Tell” follows a similar template.
Donnelly and Fortin combine for a united bass pattern on “But Still And Yet,” which varies in tempo, leaving Cervini free to do whatever he wants on the drums. “Mr. Awkward” teases us with a snippet of Ray Charles’ “Hallelujah I Love Her So” but gets slightly askew in a Thelonious Monk kind of way. However, Donnelly plays a pretty nice straight blues solo without any irony. The sequence ends with “Lament/PEX,” featuring another slow circular bass figure over which Donnelly plays a sort of classical etude. Eventually, Cervini’s drums get restless and begin to improvise freely. The rest of the band eventually gets restless too, playing the melody at much faster pace to end the song. Fittingly so, as dramatic turns where you’d least expect it defines the record.
All of those devices might be mere gimmicks if these musicians didn’t play so damned virtuosic and there weren’t any resourcefulness to their method. But there are plenty of both, and Tell‘s many pleas to grab my attention, frankly, worked. And in all the right ways.
Tell was released stateside on November 27, by Alma Records.