Vassilis Tsabropoulos piano
Arild Andersen double-bass
John Marshall drums
Recorded January 2003 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Classical pianist and late jazz bloomer Vassilis Tsabropoulos turned heads with his ECM debut, Achirana, for which he redefined the piano trio under the leadership of bassist Arild Andersen and guidance of drummer John Marshall, both improvisers of proven stamina and invention. Whereas Tsabropoulos’s playing felt at times muddied and inattentive to negative space on that nevertheless enchanting record, this sophomore effort ushers us into a new and vibrant chapter with “Straight.” Immediately one can tell in this Tsabropoulos original that its composer has already tapped into the qualities of a fine improviser, treating his hands more like feet engaged in dance, leaping and bounding their way through turns of phrase. The transformation is obvious in the way he listens, in Andersen’s duly spirited soloing, in Marshall’s vintage sound. That feeling of metamorphosis is even more palpable in “Choral” and in “Simple Thoughts,” both rustling, leafy scenes, picturesque yet open to darkness. And in “Cinderella Song,” Tsabropoulos elicits gobs of soul from the rhythm section, carrying the night with all the resignation of one who is sure in life and in love. His development as a jazz artist manifests itself further in the album’s intertextual variety, evoking Bill Evans, Vince Guaraldi, and French impressionism in short chains of keystrokes. In the latter regard, his arrangement of Ravel’s “Pavane” proves that his architectural awareness has indeed bloomed in the four-year gap between trio albums. Here he balances guidance and recession, thinking out loud in real time before our ears and brushing away the leaves to reveal the ground in all its promises of life.
Although on paper Tsabropoulos headlined Achirana, which was irrefutably an Andersen showcase, this time the opposite holds true. Still, Andersen muscles his way through some soft territories without so much as a blemish in his wake. He contributes three tunes, rendering a puff of cloud for every patch of sky. “Saturday” invokes a proper and delicate swing and finds Tsabropoulos going for a more linear approach, which bodes well for everyone involved. There is a nostalgic, quasi-urban energy in this one that sits on the cusp of swimming and drowning, opting to jump before finding out which will prevail. “Prism” offers a velvety ballad—the album’s only in the truest sense—and sets us up for the groovier “Lines,” in which the trio hits its stride.
By far the most interesting portion of this album, however, comes in the form of “European Triangle,” an unusual group improvisation that hints at broader undercurrents begging for exploration.
This is simpatico done right.