Jacob Koller
Music For Bowlers


Born and raised in the US State of Arizona, Jacob Koller is a pianist and composer sporting a CV that's already varied and interesting, Koller having collaborated - on stage and in the studio - with quite a few musicians, among them Mark Dresser and Terence Blanchard. Recorded in a classic "piano/double bass/drums" configuration (the other instruments here being played, respectively, by Chris Finet and Corey Fogel, who are technically quite skilled, have a vivacious and versatile approach, and also possess a respectable résumé), Music For Bowlers is Koller's first album as the leader of this trio.

But what kind of pianist and composer is Koller? Well, here I have to say that in my opinion the press release I got with the CD, presenting the line-up as a "High-Energy Jazz Piano Trio", does a disservice to both the CD and Koller's music, which are decidedly more various and interesting than this narrow definition could lead one to believe; though I think I can easily guess the reason why a sentence like this was seen as "doing the job".

Here I could mention names like Cecil Taylor, Anthony Davis, and Marilyn Crispell, and talk about what is - or isn't - "jazz". But if we talk about Music For Bowlers, it's apparent that the composer's palette is quite varied. For instance, if it's Paul Bley's presence that seems to inhabit the mood of Hidarite, and also the theme to Ice Fishing, elsewhere (in some knotty left hand ostinatos, or in a composition like Inconvenient Coincidence) what becomes apparent is a lesson learned, I think, from Conlon Nancarrow. I have also to stress the presence of quite a few "repetitive" sections on this album.

Koller's attack on the piano keyboard  shows a long-standing familiarity with classical music. And maybe it's from there that he gets his predilection for contrasting sections. There are also many moments where left/right hand independence is of absolute importance, both hands busy playing complex rhythmic counterpoints which - in my opinion - are quite unusual for a "jazz trio", as it's regularly thought of. (Kudos to Michael Krassner, who produced and mixed the album, assisted by engineer Otto D'Agnolo. Space placement and different timbral characteristics of both hands are of great help in making one properly follow this music with the right amount of pleasure.)

The album starts with a double bass ostinato, then we have a repeating piano phrase, played at the bottom of the keyboard; it's at this point that the drummer starts playing a series of cymbal hits that, "filled" with notes, become the right hand piano part; just as one has gotten accustomed to this, the drummer starts "opening" on the drums, with the piano to follow; as a closing gesture, a frenetic rhythmic unison of the high end of the keyboard and a very resonating snare drum. Total duration: 2'30".

At just a hair below 40', the album is perfect. The whole is dense, but not claustrophobic. It also possesses a nice, logical progression.

After the opening track discussed above, Knit To Own, we have Nello: first we have the double bass, then the drums, and the left hand on the piano; a quite airy-sounding passage from the right hand, then a rhythmic "tutti" that for just a second reminded me of (Belgian group) Univers Zero. Nice orchestral close by drums and percussion at the end of the piece.

The already mentioned Hidarite has some classic "piano ballad" moves, with beautiful nuances, and more than a bit of Paul Bley; also a succinct bass part, and percussion that are not what one would expect from a "piano ballad".

At a bit above 10', Gig For Gag (a play on words for Tit For Tat?) is the only long track on the album. It opens with a left hand ostinato, then double bass and drums, then theme. The composition has iterative figures and counterpoint, with "rhythm-section-only" interludes, then it goes to trills in the top end of the keyboard. At about 5' tempo stops on carillon-like trills.

The brief and (maybe) Nancarrow-related Inconvenient Coincidence is the only track that left me a bit cold. I liked more the (briefer still) track that follows, New Goods.

With a development that's varied but logic, Quing has a nice iterative figure, then a gradual, quite communicative, acceleration by the trio, with knotty phrasing from the right hand. Starting from about 3'30" we have an "oriental" scale, with the double bass played arco, and something that reminded me of a koto/zither duo.

Sounding relatively orthodox, the closing track, Ice Fishing, has a nice theme which sounds like something halfway between Duke Ellington and Paul Bley. Drums played with brushes, and a compressed-sounding (maybe a bit too much compression?) double bass.

In closing, this album is suggested listening; especially so, I'd say, for those musicians who - though technically skilled - seem to lack a clear vision of the composed whole.

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2008

CloudsandClocks.net | Feb. 27, 2008