Michiel Braam's Wurli Trio
Another "mysterious object"
inside my mailbox: this time, it's an album (curiously) titled Non-Functionals! (with added emphasis, courtesy of an exclamation point) by a group (totally unknown
to me) going under the name Wurli Trio. I immediately decide that - as per
the group's picture appearing on the CD cover - all members of the trio are
in the forty-something age bracket; I wonder why all featured tracks are
titled Non-Functional, with a number progression going from 1 to 9; while
I see that the Wurli Trio gets its name from its featuring a Wurlitzer electric
piano, the 200A model; I look for a press release, but I find there is none.
There's still the Web, of course. But it's precisely Michiel Braam's website
- where I hope to find all relevant news about his (long) career - that
reveals itself as a textbook case of the way(s) things can go horribly
wrong when it comes to website-browser interaction. But while this time
the intentions behind the work are bound to remain inscrutable to me, this
is not the case when it comes to the actual result: the music. Only thing
I have to do is listen.
Loosely speaking, one could define the music performed by the Wurli Trio on
this album as "electric fusion" (of the non-tacky kind); but
since such a wide label is virtually useless (except when it comes to clarifying
that it's not punk, hip-hop, or heavy metal we are talking about), we can
narrow the definition by saying that all tracks featured in Non-Functionals!
- real compositions for an electric trio of piano, bass, and drums - are
closely related to motifs that are typical of mid-70s Fusion. But things
are not really so simple: true, once in a while one finds traces of
"cosmic" Head Hunters/Herbie Hancock, typical Fusion moves such
as The Blues and those "Arias from Brasil", also some rhythmic
moves quite similar to those performed by George Duke on his Fender Rhodes
in his Zappa-related 70s; but we also have some Monk-related melodies, and
"funky" rhythmic attitude that to me doesn't sound too far from
"acoustic funk" approach of "early-period" Keith Jarrett
- on, say, Expectations. To me, it sounds like the "self-consciously
ironic intentions that appear "behind the music" in Uri Caine's
"retro-electric" trio called Bedrock are absent here.
A few words about the chosen instrument. The Wurlitzer 200A, whose sound is
less "round" and "rich" than that of the electric piano
that's the common Fusion instrument: the Fender Rhodes, today sounds quite
more "electronic", and so, less dated. (Those who remember the
excellent solo performed by Steve Winwood on Empty Pages, featured in the
world-famous album by Traffic titled John Barleycorn Must Die, already
know the sound I'm talking about.) With echo and reverb being used sparingly,
with an intelligent use of EQ, the Wurlirtzer played by Michiel Braam (who
wrote all compositions) is a perfect match for the "dry" drums
played by Dirk-Peter Kölsch and the electric basses played by Pieter Douma
(who co-produced the album together with Mec v/d Beeten, the recording
and mix engineer). To me, the album sounded a bit "boxy", but
all I had to do to have more "air" was to turn the volume pot
to the right just a bit.
Non-Functional 1 sports a be-bop theme where the melodic variations are performed
by a drum solo sounding halfway between Han Bennink and Art Blakey, and
- being quiet brief at 1' 51" - it's a dynamic introduction to the
work. Non-Functional 2 is a blues with some unusual
"accelerandi", an excellent trio interplay, and a pinch of Duke
(George). "Space" mood ŕ la Head Hunters in Non-Functional 3, with
"funky" bass solo, nice melodic splices at 3' and 4' 27",
"modern"-sounding proportion of piano and rhythm section. Non-Functional
4 has a "bluesy" slow theme sounding quite Monk-like, and an intelligently
organized solo piano section. Quite rhythmic, Non-Functional 5 didn't sound
to me as the most indispensable track on the album.
Non-Functional 6 has an angular theme with a nice piano-drums interplay, a
fine solo, some arias "sad Brasil", and a curious effect of "stylus
stuck in the grooves" at 3' 04". Non-Functional 7 has brushes,
the melody line being performed by the bass, cymbals played arco, and a
slow, fine, melodic development. A melody that to me sounded like a mix
of "Greek and Calabrese" elements appears on Non-Functional
8, then it's "happy Brasil", rimshot, a very rhythmic solo by
the piano (which at the end reminded me a bit of Ray Manzarek!), theme.
Non-Functional 9 is the fine album close (at 40', it's an album of perfect
length), with its fine mid-tempo funky theme, and a good rhythm performance
on the theme.
© Beppe Colli 2009
CloudsandClocks.net | June 28, 2009