The Yves Theiler Trio’s New CD

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WE / THEILER: Slush in Thaw. No Rank, No Hill. The Truth is, I Was Born in Argentina. WE. Beauty in Space. The Visit of Mr. Lev. Every Year / Yves Theiler, pno; Luca Sisera, bs; Lukas Mantel, dm / Intakt CD 324

Swiss jazz pianist-composer Yves Theiler, who is 31 years old, has made a name for himself in the past few years as one of European jazz’s rising stars, having played with Alexander von Schlippenbach’s orchestra as well as his own trio. Of course he has also played with other European jazz artists as well, but most of those names are unknown to me.

The opener n this set, Slush in Thaw (one of several odd names of tunes in this set) opens with what could be described as a “funky” beat, but the melodic line is highly sophisticated, even bitonal, with a more tonal middle section. When Theiler begins improvising, at around the two-minute mark, he again uses bitonality yet can navigate his way around this seeming obstacle with great ease and surprising invention. At just before six minutes in, bassist Luca Sisera also solos, displaying a rich, warm tone and remarkable melodic-harmonic invention, somewhat like Theiler but only playing single notes. Drummer Mantel supports the trio with a variety of beats and fills.

No Rank, No Hill is a slower number that begins with some remarkable effects: Theiler playing a repeated E-flat figure while Sisera plays edgy, quick-moving bowed figures on the bass. Mantel then enters with some dramatic cymbal work before backing out again and allowing Sisera to continue for a bit. When the drums re-enter, the beat becomes asymmetric and the piece really starts to take off. Theiler’s improvisation is built around this irregular rhythmic figure yet becomes more tonal as it goes along. I can see why von Schlippenbach liked this young man so much! There’s a little bit of a Monk touch in his middle chorus which I also liked very much.

Next up is The Truth is, I Was Born in Argentina, which is one of the more normal-sounding (if still a bit odd) tune titles on this disc. This one moves a bit quicker, also opening with Sisera on bass, here playing quick pizzicato figures in double time before Theiler and Mantel enter playing another somewhat funky beat with a simple but again unusual melodic line. His first solo is a single-note exploration in the middle of the keyboard, which also builds on the tune’s structure. The irregular motor rhythms played by Mantel help to propel the pianist as he explores his theme more fully, using a chord series. The title piece, WE, begins almost as a jumble of rhythm with Mantel playing fairly aggressive snare drum figures and Theiler later playing his own aggressive figures on the piano. It seems to be going nowhere, however, until the pianist suddenly begins playing a repeated four-bar theme that eventually leads into a slower section where not only the pace but also the complexity of the music eases up.

Beauty in Space is a very slow, serene piece, opening with Theiler on solo piano with Mantel coming in fairly softly behind him, playing slow paradiddles. Eventually the pianist begins playing a repetitive rhythmic figure in static harmony before the tune explodes in tempo and volume, leading into a middle section in 3 (or perhaps 3 over 4). Eventually Theiler settles into playing a repeated two-note lick in the left hand (Ab-Bb) while he improvises single-note fashion in the right. Then, surprisingly, Sisera begins playing a rapid rhythmic figure that sounds a bit like Celtic music, and Theiler responds harmonically in kind. I didn’t care much for the fade-out ending, though.

In the opening of The Visit of Mr. Lev, the music almost sounds like a swing tune, but once again it moves into strange harmonic and melodic territory; after a drum break, the tempo increases and bitonality again makes an appearance. The tempo then increases, bitonality changes to atonality, and the piece becomes quite complex indeed, including, at one point, a double-time running bass line in a quasi-boogie beat. It ends in a cacophonous riot of sound.

In the closer, Every Year, we open with  simple, lyrical theme of just a few notes which are repeated before settling into a quiet space, rare for Theiler, with sparse piano chords and equally sparse bass and drum work behind him. The tempo then picks up and Theiler stretches out and expands this simple theme in his improvisation with the bass and drums working diligently behind him. It then moves into a quieter section and ends in a lyric vein.

This is a really interesting album of well-conceived music, even in its simpler moments, which makes the listener think.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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