“The trio are as smooth and sleek as you could ask, but when grit and grease and a little R&B are required, the musicians are never at a loss.”
- Clive Davis, The London Times
Jazz Police: Tri-Fi’s “Staring Into the Sun”: Contemporary and Personal
"The entire album... is as good an example of trio communication as one can find in the modern piano trio canon."
Originally coming together as the rhythm section for vocalist Curtis Stigers, pianist Matthew Fries, bassist Phil Palombi and drummer Keith Hall branched out on their own ten years ago as “Tri-Fi,” and are now celebrating a fifth recording, Staring Into the Sun (2014). “We knew we had a special musical connection and wanted another outlet to develop our own music as a trio: music that is contemporary and personal, while still deeply rooted in the tradition of the classic piano trios,” they explain in the album’s liner note. They have met their goal on each outing, but perhaps never more elegantly than on Staring Into the Sun, which they funded through Kickstarter.
The album includes ten tracks of all original compositions, six from Fries and two each from Palombi and Hall. They start of with Fries’ “Open Water,” a lightly swinging, upbeat tune that introduces the telepathic communication among the trio. Palombi’s solo brings a bit of apprehension, yet still hopeful. The bassist contributes a more joyful solo to Fries’ festive “Circle Dance.” The pianist’s “Clockwork” is reminiscent of compositions for Lynne Arriale, as he engages himself in two and even three-way conversations like a mini-travelogue, while Hall’s continual punctuations keep your ears wondering, what’s next? Fries describes his “Airstream” as optimistic, and it is indeed upbeat, laid-back, playful and bluesy, like Keith Jarrett on a bright day; Palombi adds a bouncy solo. One of the album’s most exquisite tracks, Fries’ swaying “The Night Watch” has an old fashioned ballad feel, while Hall kicks up some fine sonic dust.
Phil Palombi contributes the beautiful “Cielo,” featuring bass and piano in counterpoint, generating a pastoral ambience. Palombi’s title track starts with a distant drum rumble and sparse piano lines, then builds momentum like an adventure tale, while the bassist’s solo adds fine details to the storyline. With “Song for Butterfly,” Drummer Hall provides delicate patterns in a slow meandering ballad, with Palombi setting a steady pulse from the deep end of the bass. Hall’s “Josie Bebop” –dedicated to his daughter–is as loose and playful as his previous composition was delicate.
The album closes with Fries’ “Compassion,” starting with Hall’s regal percussion as if a funereal ballad, as if written to honor a friend or mentor’s recent passing. Palombi’s mournful solo is one of the album’s instrumental highlights. This track–indeed the entire album– is as good an example of trio communication as one can find in the modern piano trio canon, with each instrument contributing significantly to the impact of the whole. The pieces just fit together perfectly.