The Strad Issue: January 2012
Description: An unusual jazz trio that has a cello instead of the usual double bass
Musicians: Will Martinu (cello) Jason Lindner (piano) Richie Barshay (drums)
Composer: Will Martinu et al

Will Martinu’s group bears some of the hallmarks of recent notable jazz trios The Bad Plus and EST – a mixture of snagging, rocky grooves and melodic elegance – but with the top line intriguingly shifted from piano onto Martinu’s cello. As the album progresses, though, it feels as though his stronger suit is as rhythmic bedrock rather than lead improviser.

The recording opens with a beautifully articulated pizzicato pattern, while the gently chugging groove that Martinu establishes in Instant This is just as good. But in his solos, the rhythmic certainty and clarity of purpose evaporates somewhat, resorting a little too often to decorative filler in, for example, Snake, Monkey, Cow. However, the elegiac opening to Casuarina Sands allows the cello a rare chance to sing, while Martinu’s fuzzy, distorted harmonics when things loosen up generate a subtly electric feel, attractively offset by Richie Barshay’s drum textures.

Only rarely, in the recording’s punchier moments, does the cello feel a little light against the other instruments, but its nimbleness and melodic clarity justifies its use in a setting where the double bass is more familiar. The group just needs a slightly stronger improvisational voice to make this music really take off.

James Crel