Their first CD, the award-winning Interactions, was all about how the three musicians, bassist Malcolm Creese, reedman Tim Garland and pianist John Horler, interacted musically with the material. It is likely that the title of the new record, Catalyst, refers to the profound impact that Gwilym Simcock, who replaces Horler, has had on the overall group sound. As rich, warm and inviting as the first disk, but with a stronger tendency to the abstract, Simcock, in both his playing and his formidable writing, has pushed the group into forging a stronger identity. This is heady yet immensely engaging stuff; the perfect confluence of intellect and emotion, thoughtfulness and abandon.
That Tim Garland’s writing and playing continues to grow in leaps and bounds should be no surprise to anyone who has followed his somewhat meteoric rise in the British and international jazz scenes over the past few years. He continues to experiment with extended compositional forms; his nine-minute piece, "Beyond the City" is but one of the many highlights on this disk. This track covers a lot of territory: from quiet unison work; to individual solo excursions from each member of the trio; to segueing passages that blur the line between composition and improvisation. It is also a showpiece for Garland’s stellar bass clarinet work, although he tends to favour the soprano saxophone for the majority of the album.
Simcock contributes four pieces to the album, including another highlight, the three-movement "Sea Suite". Like Garland, he opts for extended form, eschewing the theme-solo-theme format so prevalent in much of today’s jazz. Swaying between subtle introspection and extroverted bursts of rhythm, Simcock is the perfect foil for Garland’s soaring soprano; deft and nimble, he is a young artist from whom more will most certainly be heard.
Leader Creese tends to stay in the background for the most part, providing firm support throughout, although he is clearly capable of confident and lyrical soloing. Creese’s tone is round and soft; his Arco work at the end of "Sea Suite" is nothing short of perfect. He is placed front and centre for the group’s reading of Kenny Wheeler’s "Heyoke". This track demonstrates the beautiful unpredictability of the trio; one never knows exactly where it will take a piece, in this case the serene introduction barely foreshadows the bright and outgoing climax it builds to, before settling back down for the final theme.
Acoustic Triangle has a philosophy which dictates that there is no amplification of instruments in concert; they look, instead, for rooms with excellent acoustics and fine grand pianos. In recording they avoid use of outboard gear to process the sound; the room, then, becomes almost a fourth member of the group. Like Interactions, Catalyst was recorded at St. George’s in Bristol, UK, and the rich sound of the room provides a natural reverb that no electronic gear can duplicate. Garland’s saxophone, in particular, is enhanced by the sound of the hall.
Like their first disk, Catalyst is also being released as a hybrid SACD disk, so that listeners can either hear an exceptional sounding CD stereo mix, or SACD stereo or 5.1 surround mixes if they have the appropriate equipment. The attention to every detail, from the depth of the compositions; to the placement of the instruments; to an instrumental virtuosity that never loses sight of the material; to the sound of the recording, make Catalyst an early frontrunner for one of the best CDs of 2004.