The Danny Fox Trio Makes a Suspense Film for the Ears
Vivid, intense and often unselfconsciously dark, many of the compositions on the Danny Fox Trio’s latest album The One Constant follow a cinematic trajectory, frequently into very creepy territory. If pianist Fox ever gets tired of jazz, he has a career in film scores waiting to happen. He’s a hard hitter, yet very precise and also very rhythmic. Fond of nonstandard tempos (and jazz waltzes), he’ll frequently loop a riff and run melody over it, or variations on that riff. Bassist Chris van Voorst van Beest and drummer Max Goldman are essentially a supporting cast here, but Fox works their contributions in artfully, whether an off-center conversation between piano and drums on the moody, triplet-driven Sadbeard, or the cello-like bass owing on the waltz Even Tempered, a deadpan mashup of Bach Invention and Beethoven Moonlight Sonata that builds to a completely unexpected menace.
Fox also isn’t afraid to cut loose with a sarcastic sense of humor: one gets the impression that he doesn’t suffer fools gladly. The Icebox mocks electronic club music, from techno to trip-hop, at one point the whole group joining in a leaden thump on the beat. And then the club becomes a crime scene with another welcome digression into noir. Then there’s Drama King, somebody who’ll do just about anything for attention, whether hinting at an operatic buffoonery or hammering again and again on the same idea until it’s genuinely annoying (the punchline of the joke is too satisfying to give away here). And Bad Houseguest starts out funky before the visitor begins behaving badly – and gets shown the door with a bang.
But it’s the more serious tracks here that really pack a wallop. The opening cut, Next Chapter juxtaposes blithe loopiness with Satie-esque menace, while Easily Distracted, a syncopated, modal tango of sorts, very cleverly works in major-on-minor effects: it reminds of Michel Reis’ recent work. Trudge trudges heavily in waltz time, from an insistently macabre, Tschaikovskian slog, to a richly crescendoing, far more triumphant theme. Likewise, Fable’s End reaches for a cinematic, dynamically charged sweep, including a digression into a surprisingly salsa-flavored bass solo. And the stomp recurs with a vengeance on the methodically more apprehensive Room 120. There are also a couple of more lighthearted, funky, even danceable tunes along with the brooding, tense title track, another jazz waltz with some marvelously well-chosen echo effects from Fox. As tuneful as it is cerebral, the album makes a great introduction to a resolutely individualistic, powerful voice in third-stream jazz.
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