Somatic Jim Black Trio

Jim Black
Jim Black's track record as a bandleader, spooling back a dozen years, follows a single, unwavering path, with endless variations of terrain. A drummer of convulsive instinct but earnest intention.

Mr. Black has released five albums with AlasNoAxis, a band as informed by noise-rock and hazy atmospherics as by audacious improvised music. His songwriting for the group has faithfully served the needs of this proprietary style. It's easy to imagine him never abandoning it.

But “Somatic" puts forth something with another flavor entirely. The obvious difference is in the instrumentation: Mr. Black has assembled a terrific trio, featuring the acoustic pianist Elias Stemeseder and the upright bassist Thomas Morgan, with a sound mix that scans recognizably as jazz.

(He'll celebrate the album's release at Cornelia Street Café on Feb. 23, with the same instrumentation but different personnel.)

The shift also registers in Mr. Black's compositions here, which don't stake so much on crescendo or on the gradual reveal. This is music built for meandering; its grooves are malleable but stable, often largely defined by a swinging ride-cymbal pattern.

The shadow lurking behind this effort belongs to Paul Motian, a slyly Delphic jazz drummer, composer and bandleader who died last year, and whose influence has always been nestled under the hood of Mr. Black's sputtering jalopy. The album's broodingly soulful title track could pass for an outright tribute, especially by virtue of the drumming. (But not for just that reason; Mr. Morgan is an alumnus of Motian's recent bands.) The opening track, “Tahre," with its restive, rhapsodic melancholy, breathes a similar air.

Elsewhere dissonance and turbulence cohabit with a desire for connection. Mr. Black gives some of his tunes, like “Terrotow," a strong melodic spine; others, like “Beariere," thrive on brute momentum. In either case the material has an articulate advocate in Mr. Stemeseder, whom most Americans have never heard before. Originally from Salzburg, Austria, he's now studying at Jazz Institut Berlin.

The absence of context for Mr. Stemeseder might have you grasping for comparisons: maybe his chord voicings in “Hestbak" will remind you of Ethan Iverson of the Bad Plus, another Motian-obsessed acoustic piano trio. “Sure Are You," with its muscular counterpoint, might call up the same reference. Which is fine, for now: we're just getting acquainted with Mr. Stemeseder. With luck, this band will give us more chances to know him better.

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