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Bruxin by John Stetch Trio

After completing his plan to record a trilogy of solo albums, John Stetch is back in piano trio format as bassist Sean Smith and drummer Rodney Green join him in realizing the impressionistic concepts that he has created for his latest recording. The very first track, "Inuit Talk," for instance, is Stetch’s impression of the speech of the Inuits, natives near the Arctic Circle whose language he heard in elementary school. Stetch’s melody consists of clipped, spaced phrases, much like the language, he says. Green’s martial cadence, introduced on snare drum, sets up the rhythm for the song, and of course, Stetch can’t help but swing, the staccato simulated speech sweeping into swirls of notes, after the Inuit dialogue initially is stated.

A late-comer to the piano, first playing it at the age of 18, Stetch isn’t so much making up for lost time as enjoying the opportunity to explore his ideas through the instrument of the piano. What made Ukrainianism one of the top solo jazz piano recordings of recent memory was the uniqueness of Stetch’s evocation of the rhythms and melodies of some of the dances of the Ukrainian immigrants in Edmonton, Alberta, where he grew up. Once again on Bruxin', Stetch has created some music that could be only his own by drawing on his early influences, as he did on "Inuit Talk," thereby adding authenticity to his music.

Of course, technique allows Stetch to express his thoughts as an extension of his personality with humor, joyfulness and poignancy letting the feeling of the piece drive the meter and the dynamics. On one hand, "The Girl in the Hemp Skirt," which describes Stetch’s wife, Susan, prismatically with colors from shawdowy blues to brilliant glitters, changes moods within a conventional four-four time, as Stetch slips in and out of meter according to the description he musically sketches. "How Far Is Callisto?" proceeds in five-four time, though based upon Coltrane’s "Satellite." Still, Stetch embellishes the tune, impishly, with quarter-note dissonances between choruses as Green accents the seemingly random note choices. His idea of balancing staccatoed notes at the end of choruses with the the inventive melody reaches its culmination, as it should, at the end of the piece. So, finally, what seems to be a relatively simple one-note pattern of tightening intervals destined to harmonic resolution becomes a rhythm at odds with that of the drums’.

"Circus," revivifying Stetch’s memories of big-top pagentry from his childhood actually is a blues tune based upon a numerical system of threes (the numerical device being one that Greg Osby uses occasionally): a trio playing the three chords of the song in three sharps in three-four time about a three-ring circus, according to Stetch. However, amidst the whirlwind of activity depicted, he suggests that sense of the performers’ daring as a reflection of his own, as he performs his own feats, stripping the initial melody down to its basic rhythm by dampening the string of the single bass note he plays during Green’s solo. Stetch’s depiction of his brother, "Chord-Free Gord," appears to start simply enough as Stetch outlines his fraternal description in tripping octaves until, as if mere octaves weren’t colorful enough for the description, Stetch breaks into sweeping gales of notes and accelerated movement. Thereafter, he returns to the original motive from different aspects of plucked strings or by elongated phrases or by simultaneously employing the extremities of the keyboard.

Stetch returns to "Heavens of a Hundred Days," heard previously on his album of the same title, as he reminds the listener that his attention to touch reinforces the technical brilliance that he displays when he evokes wit or suggests the personalities of people he knows. A composition of unpredictable yet gorgeous modulations, "Heavens of a Hundred Days" wavers between major and minor chords, creating a mysteriousness and intrigue that retains the listener’s attention. Similarly, "The Prairie Unfolds" attains a feeling, an image, through the changeability of moods and the insouciant variations of meter, as Stetch recalls his travels through the Canadian prairies.

Not only does Bruxin’ continue to showcase John Stetch’s seemingly unlimited technique, as well as the fertility of his imagination elements of his talent in abundant evidence in his solo albums but also, it presents an interactive trio, like for example Jean-Michel Pilc’s or Jason Moran’s, that has developed a sounds like no other’s.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: John Stetch Trio
  • CD Title: Bruxin
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2006
  • Record Label: Unknown
  • Musicians: Inuit Talk, Bruxin’, Circus, Green Grove, The Girl in the Hemp Shirt, Chord-Free Gord, How Far Is Callistro?, The Prairie Unfolds, Snark, Heavens of a Hundred Days, Rectangle Man
  • Rating: Four Stars
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