“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
Raising a Third: Tri-Fi’s “3”
"There are surely piano trios with higher profiles than Tri-Fi, but one would be hard pressed to identify another with more telepathic synergy"
“As an artist, there’s that wonderful feeling of freedom you get when you have the opportunity to create exactly the music you believe in without the compromise of a record company who wants you to fit into a certain mold.” –Tri-Fi
Thus the premise for Tri-Fi’s new self-produced, third recording, simply titled “3.” 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 in 2005 with their eponymous debut release, followed by Postcards in 2007. Seeking financial support for a recording of all-original material, they found the opportunity with Kickstarter, a new funding platform for a wide range of artists, somewhat on the order of the highly successful ArtistShare. The result is nine exceptional, uncompromising tracks of trio magic. Pianist Fries plays the major role as composer, contributing six tunes, drummer Hall adds two and bassist Palombi adds one more.
Fries, whose resume includes winning the Great American Piano Competition and stints with Stacey Kent, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Terell Stafford as well as his long-standing gig with Stigers, “kickstarts” the album with his “Clipped Wings.” It’s a rhythmically challenging, tempo-shifting and expansive (nearly 10-minute) composition that immediately highlights the telepathic exchange among the trio, a showcase for Keith Hall’s many percussive colors and Phil Palombi’s dark and acrobatic basslines, as well as the pianist’s elegant touch and lyricism. Fries honors CD sponsor Adrian Herring of the British Herring Shoes company with “Take What You Want But Don’t Touch My Herring Shoes,” which swings like a great upbeat standard in search of lyrics, while “The Long Journey Home” flows as an exquisite ballad, the piano and bass generating the lyric. Keith Hall appropriately pops out the intro to the swaggering “Repercussions,” adding breaks and bursts throughout. “Unnamed Road” has the bluesy country feel of another “road” tune, Maria Schneider’s “The Pretty Road,” and is similarly nostalgic. Here Fries, with his glistening articulation and gentle swing, conjures Evans, Jarrett, and Lynne Arriale.
Keith Hall’s credentials include the Broadway run of the Lion King and work with Marcus Belgrave, Betty Carter, John Hicks, Wynton Marsalis, Claudio Roditi, Steve Wilson and of course Curtis Stigers, as well serving on the faculty of Western Michigan University. His two compositions on “3” include “You & Me,” cowritten with Hall’s 10-year-old daughter Grace with the elegance of a hymn and the rhythmic sway of a samba, and the lilting, tilting “Hannah Bugs,” propelled by Palomobi’s dancing basslines, Fries’s clusters of swinging chords and the composer’s frenzied heartbeat.
Phil Palombi was inspired by Ray Brown to switch from classical to jazz bass, and remains an eclectic performer covering jazz, R&B and Brazilian pop, with a resume that lists Maynard Ferguson’s Big Bop Nouveau, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Michael Brecker, Etta Jones, Dave Liebman, Chris Potter, Chucho Valdes and Curtis Stigers. He launches his “Argentina” with a gorgeous bass solo, stepping out again midway with a melodic interlude that sets up an assertive retort from Hall.
The trio is never more majestic, never more sweetly interactive than on Fries’s final “Afterimage,” each voice a clear and essential presence, yielding a lasting sonic glow that sums the threesome’s interaction throughout the disc. There are surely piano trios with higher profiles than Tri-Fi, but one would be hard pressed to identify another with more telepathic synergy. Fries, Palombi and Hall share a meeting of the minds and a melding of the hearts on 3.