King Crimson, of all things, was the ensemble that first demonstrated (to the wider public, at least) the greater possibilities introduced by a double trio. And now, a Frenchman and an American extend this thrilling concept into jazz. But Benoit Delbecq, the Frenchman and Fred Hersch, the Yankee, made Fun House into a 3+3 album that couldn’t be farther away from Robert Fripp’s approach to the idea.
Fun House is a union of the respective trios led by Delbecq and Hersch, which easily leads one to think that this is going to be a thicket of commotion at every level. Not so.
It’s very striking how — with two pianos, two basses and two drums — what a spacious and airy record this is. It comes partly as a result of the main protagonists treating notes as precious natural resources, making every one of them connote a feeling. The two bassists, Jean-Jacques Avenel and Mark Helias often avoid redundancy because one is bowing his bass and the other one playing it pizzicato. Steve Argüelles and Gerry Hemingway each play their drum kits with a light touch; it’s almost inaccurate call them drummers in this setting; “colorists” is more descriptive of what they are.
Another part of the credit goes to Delbecq, who composed eight and a half of these ten songs. These compositions’ rootless, liquid melodies invite rumination and pure emotion. That allows Delbecq to pursue his aggressive, gently restless nature, while Hersch revels in his ruminative self. “Hushes” through “Le Rayon Vert” are pieces of quiet contemplation punctuated by mildly disruptive moments, like the exotic percussive sounds made on “Hushes,” the brief period of unsettled atmosphere on “Ronchamp” and the superb bass playing that permeates “Strange Loop.”
It’s on “Loop” where I first pick up on Argüelles’ electronics, which are always used in a subtle, complementary manner. Mostly, he seems to direct this skill at adding to the resonance left behind when piano keys are struck, and bolstering the odd percussive effects. It’s especially obvious on “Tide,” which he co-wrote with Delbecq, but can also be heard on “Fun House” and “Le Rayon Vert.” “Night For Day” is the first time where any timekeeping is done, and even here on this occasion, the pace of the beat changes constantly. A 4/4 rhythm breaks out for a short time on “Tide,” too, but otherwise, time signatures are banished from this record.
The simultaneous playing often makes it difficult for those interested in separating out Hersch from Delbecq but the former being generally panned to the left channel for the latter panned to the right helps. It’s particularly fascinating to hear how Hersch finds his place within Delbecq’s ideas, and digging deep into his playing you can appreciate his astonishing ability to play with such rhythmic subtlety and he’s seemingly always aware of every facet of a song no matter how abstract it is. He’s particularly in his element on the Monk-link “Night For Day,” but Delbecq is clearly enjoying blending in with him on this tune, highlighting the overlap in their styles as well as the divergences.
At the end of the sequence is one cover, Ornette Coleman’s pervasive “Lonely Woman,” where in this brief rendition the melody is first hinted at, then made more explicit. In this way, another inspiration for Delbecq’s one compositions becomes evident, as well as showing how Delbecq, along with Hersch, puts their inspirations through their own filters. The impression that Fun House leaves above all others is that the Benoit Delbecq and Fred Hersch Double Trio isn’t a sextet that’s making twice as music sound as trio. Rather, it functions as a three-piece band with twice as many ideas.
Fun House becomes available at major retail outlets on March 12, by Songlines Records.