Though there are moments and passages that seem to be collectively improvised here, the trio's main area of interest is not free jazz. In fact, some of the group's more 'out-there' moments - such as the stretches of silence on 'Recent Events'- actually seem to come more from the avant-classical world than from the free-jazz / free-improv world. In fact, "White Rocket" emphasizes the trio's penchant for intelligent, intensely rhythmic, tightly-composed, dramatically-paced modern jazz. The nine original compositions (one by drummer, Carpio, four by Felton and four by trumpeter Jacob Wick) are thoughtful, edgy, ambitious, and tinged by a variety of influences - most palpably Andrew Hill, M-BASE, Dave Douglas, Vijay Iyer's Fieldwork, and The Bad Plus, to name a few. Both Fieldwork and Douglas' work with the Tiny Bell Trio, (a bass-free group comprised of trumpet, drums, and saxophone) are obvious reference points, and while White Rocket treads upon similar compositional and improvisational ground, Felton's piano is the big difference-maker.
Though I found "White Rocket" a thoroughly enjoyable CD that stood up to repeat listenings, my favorite tracks tended to be the shorter, more focused ones. Sean Carpio's 'Hone,' built on a twisting, asymmetric piano phrase, incites one of Wick's best solos on the entire recording. The opening 'Mutatis Mutandis,' part of which pleasantly recalls some of Andrew Hill's early 60s work, is similar but has a more open structure that gives both Wick and Felton plenty of room to stretch out. 'His Story,' a more conventional piece built on a darkly lyrical trumpet melody, is another engaging piece - here Felton and Wick solo over the knotty, angular chord changes and take the tune into some truly unexpected territory. The sad, resigned 'Lonely Toad' is an ECM-sounding modernist ballad, or perhaps a thinking man's blues with all of the blues clichès stripped away. 'Sung Once' also has an air of sad tenderness to it, though the sun certainly starts poking through the clouds during Wick's solo. Even darker is the CD-closing 'The Fisherman's Song' which features some amazing, Mangelsdorff-ian overtone trumpet playing.
The remainder of the CD is no less rewarding. White Rocket's adventurous and multifaceted jazz moves in all sorts of interesting and unexpected directions. The lack of a bass, while perhaps limiting in some ways, is freeing in others and really permits this young trio to claim some previously uncharted musical territory.