Fabian Neubauer’s “Tales”

Tales

NEUBAUER-LONG-LIEBHAUER: Faces, Parts I-III. Tides of Time. Tales. Scirocco. Somewhere Else. Metamorphosis/Reprise / Fabian Neubauer, pno/org/elec; Duy Luong, bs/elec; Pablo Liebhauer, dm / Leo Records CD LR-922

The liner notes for this strange piano trio CD read simple as follows:

Stories of spontaneous longing
For sound in space;
Playful inquiring open-mindedness,
Questions arising from it;
Miniatures, which reveal themselves
To be unfolded and shaped

One can hear in this music, if one wishes, an advanced version of the old Bill Evans Trios, soft-grained jazz which focuses more on subtle harmonic and rhythmic shifts. One difference is that pianist Neubauer plays even more slowly than Evans, producing, for the most part, a floating succession of single notes and chords always on the edges of tonality. At least in the opener, Faces I, I felt that drummer Duy Luong’s playing was just a bit too busy for the mood set by the piano and bass, but there were moments when he pulled back and let the music drift for a while.

This is “ambient jazz” with a musical spine. It does indeed create an hypnotic effect on the listener, putting him or her into a calm space without insulting the listener’s intelligence. The one Evans recording that resembles this rather closely, but not identically, is his old Village Vanguard trio with Scott La Faro and Bill Motian. And I do not say this lightly, because in his own way La Faro was a musical genius, thus I held Luong to a high standard, but he came through more often than not with La Faro-inspired lines, particularly in his solo work.

Moreover, each tracks seems to flow into the next, creating a tapestry of sound that gives the illusion of continuity despite their being separate pieces. Or are they? After all, Faces is split into three segments, one following the other, and in Faces II Neubauer and his trio suddenly up the tempo, here sounding more like Lennie Tristano than Evans, which was fine by me. After all, Tristano was Evans’ direct predecessor.

If anything, the opening section of Tides of Time moves even slower than Faces, starting with an a cappella bass solo into which Luong throws in a cymbal wash, followed by deft, subtle snare drum figures. Neubauer eventually joins them, musing gently in the middle of the keyboard. With so much of this music being slow-moving and almost minimalistic, however, there’s not much to describe. As the notes say, the music simply unfolds as sound in space. Even the occasional use of electronics, as in Tides of Time, uses long-held notes, although I personally felt that the intrusion of electronics spoiled the mood for me. The sound is just too loud and abrasive, and I didn’t like it. On Tales, however, Neubauer switches to an electric piano, an instrument that even Duke Ellington used, and its soft, almost celesta-like sound fit the mood perfectly.

With Scirocco, however, we return to a Tristano-like vibe, albeit one with a somewhat more complicated rhythmic pattern than Lennie usually used. Here, the electronics are not quite as loud or intrusive, and their presence actually enhances this track.

Bottom line: this is a strange but quite attractive album for those who like their music generally quiet and minimal. A nice retreat, for the most part, from the sound barrier, but in a very creative fashion.

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

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