Trio Tritticali: Edgy Jam Band with Strings
Hope it’s ok with you if we go with back-to-back eclectic string bands here – because as Trio Tritticali reminded at an inspiring, brilliantly intense performance earlier this week at Caffe Vivaldi, they’re just as much fun as Tin Hat. Combining the exacting virtuosity of a classical ensemble with the wild improvisational edge of a jazz band, there’s no other group like them in the New York area.
Trio Tritticali’s debut album, Issue No. 1 was one of last year’s most deliciously eclectic releases, a mix of indie classical, tango, Middle Eastern and other global sounds. In concert, they destroyed any cliche about classically-trained players being lost when it comes to jamming. Frontwoman/violist Leanne Darling’s lines twisted and turned and weaved a hypnotic but edgy web in tandem with violinist Helen Yee’s razor-sharp, precise, understatedly intense attack, over the ambidextrous pulse of cellist Loren Dempster. Working the strings with his thumb and then his bow, somehow he managed to simultaneously play a bassline while ornamenting the songs with terse lower-register accents, then taking the occasional solo with the same edgy intensity as his bandmates.
Early on they worked a tricky, syncopated Stephane Grappelli-ish vamp with a coy, catchy chromatic turnaround reaching down into a suspenseful harmonic groove between Darling and Yee. A stately march with more than one trick ending saw Darling picking up a pass from the cello and violin at the last minute, then taking it into more pensive, atmospheric terrain as Dempster managed to run the hook. Yee opened the next song with a sardonic yet intense bit of throat-singing, a pensive trickly, rhythmic atmospheric number, Darling reaching for the sky but not willing to put a hole in it just yet, Yee’s casually fluid doublestops keeping the suspense at breaking point. This group has the same kind of rawness but also the originality of the British art-rock bands of the early 70s: ELO, String Driven Thing, the Strawbs, etc.
A little later on, the trio evoked Rasputina’s Signs of the Galaxy with a sad, plaintive, insistent minor-key theme; after the hypnotic, psychedelic atmospherics of Heart Lake – inspired by a favorite spot in Yellowstone National Park, Darling explained – they wrapped up their first set with the title track to the album,” a funk sandwich,” as she put it, a suspenseful diptych that went out in an unamplified but still unextinguishably ferocious blaze of swooping, diving chamber-metal. Trio Tritticali’s members are used to considerably bigger stages than this one; let’s hope the individual group members’ schedules allow time for more shows like this.