The Strad Issue: January 2013
Description: A rare jazz trio with a cello to the fore
Musicians: Will Martinu (cello) Jason Lindner (piano/Rhodes) Richie Barshay (drums/percussion)
Composer: Will Martinu

Australian-born New York resident Will Martinu returns with the trio that released The Dam Levels (reviewed February 2012). The rock and hip-hop influences shared with recent notable jazz acts such as Robert Glasper and the Bad Plus are still there, but this release is a little more understated, while Martinu also lets Jason Lindner’s keyboards do more of the heavy lifting up front.

The music hinges on the strength of writing more than its improvisation, with imaginative, surprising changes of feel and texture shaping the first two tracks in particular. Modular Living epitomises the group’s approach: after a sparse, taut opening, a heavier, fusiony groove emerges with Martinu’s cello typically taking on the double-bass supporting role. The piece ends on beautiful pizzicato, and this is Martinu’s real strong suit – there’s an ability to craft gentle, expressive lines from his fingers, and when he’s to the fore, it adds a colour that conventional jazz trios can’t offer.

If there’s a criticism, it’s that when the music settles in one place for long, it can fall a little flat. But these moments fail to spoil the overall effect – an unusual blend of sounds bringing something subtly different to a familiar format.