CD Review: Trihornophone

CD Review: Trihornophone

Breathing Time / Diatribe DIACD004

Since forming in Dublin four years ago, the lively, progressive quartet Trihornophone has been intriguing audiences with improvised music that is playful, open, and always fresh. With Breathing Time, their second album, this forward-thinking group brings its unique sound to ten original compositions, all written by leader Seán Óg, and the surprise, wit, and sense of musical exploration that we have come to expect from the band is maintained and extended throughout the recording with variety and panache.

With Seán Óg on alto sax, Bill Blackmore on trumpet, Kelan Walsh on baritone sax and Dennis Cassidy behind the drum kit, Trihornophone’s ensemble playing does without bass or the chordal accompaniment of piano or guitar. The result is a clean, uncluttered sound, much aided by Seán Óg’s careful production, which allows listeners to focus on the interesting interactions between the horns. This approach depends on excellent musicianship, a willingness to take risks, and trust between band members – there is no room to hide. If it is not to sound precious, such a line-up also requires good writing, and the album’s compositions are well-structured and engaging, and bear repeated listening.

The first tune, ‘our voices through the air’, sets the tone with a muted, breathy drone that sounds almost electronic in its effect, followed by a simple melody that is subtly varied by the three horns before resolving into a march driven by Cassidy’s drums. Breathing time, indeed. As its name implies, ‘warp & woof’ is an intricately woven piece that swings relentlessy, with tightly defined ensemble statements alternating with bright improvisatory passages. And ‘ampersand’, with its mock big-band riffs, sinuous solos, and complex connecting statements, is characteristic of the whole recording’s uniqueness – you never quite know where these tunes are going to bring you, but you nod your head with appreciation when you arrive.

Paradoxically, Trihornophone has hints of both New Orleans funeral bands (tracks like ‘clover’ have a pronounced elegiac feel) and the free-jazz experiments of Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry. I can’t imagine there are many bands that can claim that breadth of suggestion. But within those extremes there is much else happening; the band is agnostic in its influences and unafraid to incorporate elements of pop, folk, and world music into its playing. And it is utterly contemporary: ‘yousaythenicestthings’, in some ways the most ambitious piece on the album, mixes muted trumpet, quiet, percussive sections, and resonant ambient sounds to create a collage-like piece with its own inner logic. This logic extends to the whole of Breathing Time, so that we hear not just a satisfying document of the current, but creative channels that can be explored in the future – and which tell us that this is a band that continues to be one to watch.

Published on 1 January 2009

Kevin Stevens is is a Dublin-based novelist and writer on history, literature, and jazz.

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