|Elegant in its minimalism, this recent summit of seasoned European improvisers presents a group that could very well be among the most compatible trios to currently grace that continent. I've personally found reedist Frank Gratkowski's previous recordings a bit difficult to appreciate, but this ensemble, one in which all three players understand precisely how to use the space they've allowed themselves, is incredibly suited to his style.
This convergence results in some of the most egoless improvised music you're likely to hear—a situation established immediately on the opening track, "Tartar". Where Gratkowski is often content to play in subtle waves, with single notes woven through the percussive fabric, pianist Fred Van Hove and percussionist Tony Oxley are particularly attuned to one another, as the countless instances of faint cymbal splashes telepathically punctuated by piano chords reveal.
Even when the musicians move into more aggressive territory, as on the longer pieces "Carrousel" and "Trenches/Tranches", their restraint is astoundingly impeccable. While the former patiently rumbles toward its flurried conclusion, turning itself inside out on cue from a guttural Gratkowski howl, the latter's movement is dictated by Oxley's industrial waves of percussion. Oxley also reminds how well he works in duo with a pianist on this extended piece, locking in with Van Hove during the two sections where Gratkowski lays out between instruments. It's the reedist, however, who leads the trio to its most intense heights—of the piece and the entire session—in an acutely knotted run of circular breathing on alto sax.
Van Hove helps to extend the trio's palate on two tracks by switching to accordion; his style on the instrument is completely ethereal, blending with Oxley's shimmering cymbal work on "Foreplay/Vorspiel" and Gratkowski's percussive contrabass clarinet on "Witchy" for swirling, almost psychedelic layers of sound. Not that they need the help though; even as a horn/piano/percussion trio, they prove themselves more than capable of producing stellar improvisations—creating form from the slightest threads of connection without sacrificing the element of surprise.