Jazz that’s exploratory and deviceful is the kind of jazz I like; so is small ensemble jazz where a Fender Rhodes or some other kind of electric piano is involved. But rarely are these two aspects are found together in the same music. The Oakland, California heavy improv jazz trio Sound Etiquette thrives on its uniqueness of doing just that.
Eli Wallace is the guy manning vintage plugged-in keyboards but he’s not doing it by himself as saxophonist Nick Obando and drummer Aaron Levin also play pivotal parts in this democratic/anarchic trio. Formed just two years ago, Sound Etiquette seems to relish throwing out the customary rules of how music is made, blurring the lines between melody, tonality and improvisation.
It all starts with the very approach taken to record their self-titled debut. Sound Etiquette (out December 9, 2016 by Orenda Records) was all tracked live in the studio within a single day, with no edits or overdubs. “Entrance” sets the template with a loose, evolving, eroding figure portrayed on a circa-1970 barbed Rhodes sound.
“Spiral Recollection” springs from a prowling bass line devised on the far, left side of Wallace’s plugged-in piano while he gets frisky on the right side with Levin and Obando pulling him further toward the unhinged side. “Escape Velocity” is what happens when “Spiral Recollection” spools out of control and Obando shares in equally in the group free-for-all.
“A Clearing,” as in “clearing” the cacophony of the prior two tracks with pure melody, begins with a soul drenched sax soliloquy and the addition of Wallace’s pulsating keys along with the swinging murmur of Levin’s drums rounds out the soft textures; that doesn’t keep those two from briefly venturing out to edge of the song’s comfort zone before handing it back over to Obando.
The pursuit of an ever-evolving gloomy mood forms “The Tides,” Obando’s sax emitting a mournful low moan even as the other two players accelerate their pace. “Solar Winds” crashes in, followed by large footprints left behind by Wallace’s bellowing notes and after a temperate start, “The Way Home” explodes into free-form fury.
Sound Etiquette revisits an old, forgotten virtue from the earliest days of electric jazz, when an amplified keyboard alongside acoustic instruments played with pure instinct was synonymous with timbre-rich fuzziness and freedom. Thankfully, Obando, Wallace and Levin remembered.
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