Thursday, May 30, 2019

Drummer Matt Slocum heads an understated trio outing

Taking individual contributions to a higher level than usual is the approach Matt Slocum champions in a subtle trio album called "Sanctuary" (SunnySide).
Full-length portrait: Matt Slocum (center) with bandmates Clayton and Grenadier.

Scheduled for release tomorrow, this is not the kind of piano-bass-drums music that privileges the piano, through which the main line of this appealing subgenre runs. Nor does it give matching vigor and prominence to all three in the muscular manner of the old Bad Plus.

At the other end of the spectrum, the equality that the leader distributes so effectively here is of the soft-spoken kind. That seems unusual for a drummer-led group, but the foregrounding of pianist Gerald Clayton and bassist Larry Grenadier is a hallmark of "Sanctuary." Whenever one instrument takes the lead, the others tend to insinuate themselves, not in a conventional attitude of "support," but as front-line companions.

You get that feeling immediately with Sufjan Stevens' "Romulus," which opens this set and is the only one of eight works not by Slocum. The listener hooks into that track with Grenadier's inviting introduction. If the trio has a star in this release, it may well be Grenadier, delivering on the fitness of technique and imagination he showed for many years in Brad Mehldau's trio.

The trio's hesitancy to overstate anything occasionally lost me in its vague musing; I found "A Dissolving Alliance" rather hard to follow.  I suppose the title provides a clue I didn't know quite how to interpret. Yet pieces that seem in a hurry, with a bit of an edge to them, often present enlivening contrasts rather than the scattered impression that could result: After a nifty drum solo, "Consolation Prize" showcases Clayton's melodic right hand.

The title tune is predictably meditative, and the mood is fully shared three ways. With Slocum getting extra bite from his tom-toms, "Anselmo," the closing track, shows the Slocum trio at its best on the high-energy side, but always under tasteful control.

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