Feature photo: Scott Friedlander
Houston, Texas-based The Core Trio was originally part of the quartet Rosta, formed about ten years ago in the aftermath of the breakup of that avant-garde jazz combo Rosta. Led by its double-bass player Thomas Helton, the group also features Seth Paynter on saxes and since last year, Joe Hertenstein on drums (replacing Richard Cholakian).
That The Core Trio is, well, a trio, hadn’t stopped them from playing quartet music; witness last year’s issuance of an album — their first — that they made with pianist Robert Boston. They’ve recently done gigs with trumpet great Tim Hagens and have also collaborated with trombone player Steve Swell. This year that made and released another album, again with a pianist. That pianist is none other than improvised music master Matthew Shipp.
Plainly entitled The Core Trio with Matthew Shipp, it’s a single, forty-two minute performance generated on the spot, and the “trio + 1” functions perfectly as a quartet since they found a kindred spirit in Shipp. It’s often hard to tell who is leading, which I consider a good sign because it’s an indication that everyone is leading. There are lots of overlap between the tendencies of the Core Trio and Shipp’s own tendencies, most significantly, ignoring the fences between what is tonal and atonal and emphasize passion well over being technically proficient, which they are anyway.
The evolution of the mood shapes the song: beginning with Shipp’s introductory descending figures, the group takes only a little time to ponder it’s next move, a tempestuous, ever-shifting cloud of dust. Dig what Helton and Hertenstein are doing to kick up that dust, creating rumbles, mini-explosions and spidery figures that are in lockstep with Shipp’s thinking at the moment. Paynter patiently waits for his own spots, maximizing his impact.
From around the seven to the fourteen-minute mark, relative calm prevails, pulling back the curtain on superb individual contributions (including Helton’s contemplative and slightly agitating bowed bass solo), until the density and fury returns. Notably, they’re always dispersing the anger in a controlled, meaningful way. Paynter’s sax solo a little later on is all crusty emotion that fails to sound like anyone else, and Helton manages to make his bowed bass sound so much like a second sax, it briefly fooled me into think Paynter overdubbed himself.
All of this happens in just the first half of the performance; the second half has other surprises in store, like the four-way simultaneous soloing that fits together in a deconstructed groove, and more fine highlights by Shipp and Paynter.
The Core Trio does plan to live up to the “trio” part of its name with an upcoming album consisting of just Helton, Paynter and Hertenstein, but also will get back together with Swell. With or without the fourth player, they exemplify what free jazz sounds like when the minds behind it are set free.
If you’re in the Houston area, be sure to catch this band live. Shipp will join them on stage November 22 for a CD release party at Ovations.