Free jazz is, without a doubt, the most difficult style of jazz to negotiate. It is, as Evan Parker has said, done best when performed by musicians who have spent a great deal of time playing together and have built up a number of shared musical associations. This is obvious in the music of Keith Jarrett’s trio with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette. Here the music is so decisively defined by their mutual musical sympathies, built up over time, that brilliant is too indistinguishing a word to use. Likewise in the work of Evan Parker and Paul Bley, one hears how the give and take of free association works best. The free work of Sam Rivers is also exemplary in its ability to go anywhere at any time. These musicians, along with people like Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman, are the absolute masters of this genre and the zenith of the mode. The skill of these artists is daunting and those others who choose to work within these means are to be commended.
On Apropos of Nothing, the Pittsburgh based Thoth Trio delves into this eclectic art form with mixed results. Woodwind player Ben Opie finds new things to say most clearly on the short title tune. His clarinet, seemingly, questions the air throughout the short solo introduction before laying out the short melody. It’s a shame this tune ends here without any real development. This could have been the highlight of the disc.
The disc’s highpoint is, instead, Look And Reflect. Here Opie is plaintive, searching yet candidly sincere in his fashioning of reflective and melancholic phrases. His saxophone weathers the interactions wonderfully as his pitches rise and fall in perfect sync with bandmates Paul Thompson (bass) and David Throckmorton (drums). On this track the three truly act as one in perfect symbiosis. Their use of dynamics and climaxing of line is simply superb.
Bassist Thompson’s playing is good, but quite unrestrained throughout. At times his questioning lines set up unexpected and vibrant responses from the band, but at other points, such as on Ammonium, he doesn’t seem to fit in with the storm around him. Throckmorton’s drumming is tight, energetic and vigorous, whether his compatriots follow or not. His duet with Thompson on Opie’s Dream is just plain great.
The main problem with this recording lies in the fact that the three don’t come together in mental harmony often enough. There are too many points when it sounds like three people playing for themselves, instead of music played by three people. Even when working within avant-garde means it’s still all about musical communication. That’s not to say this is a bad recording. There are just not enough of the really great moments when things hit together.