Tri-Fi Postcards – (2007) | By Andrea Canter
Published: January 8th, 2008
Tri-Fi, (L-R): Keith Hall, Matthew Fries, Phil Palombi.
Fans of vocalist Curtis Stigers have known for years that he is supported by one of the finest and most cohesive rhythm sections in the business. Finally in 2005 pianist Matthew Fries, bassist Phil Palombi, and drummer Keith Hall went off to the studio on their own to document their collaboration as Tri-Fi. Now following their auspicious eponymous debut, the threesome have released Postcards with ten original tracks–five from Fries, three from Hall and two from Palombi. Saxophonist Steve Wilson is featured on several tracks, and even Stigers himself has a few spoken words on the final cut. Noting that most of the compositions were specifically written for this recording, Hall points out that “we also took some chances exploring some different directions, which I think proved to be a lot of fun and very musical.” The different directions reflect the stylistic differences among the three composers, creating a divergent set ranging from ballad to straight ahead up tempo to more playful and angular works.
Matthew Fries’ originals cover nearly half the disc, his compositions tending to the more cerebral, contemplative, slower paced tracks. Opening with “The Pumpkin,” Fries introduces us to his dexterity in creating intricate but accessible lines over a solid vamp foundation. Hall’s playful percussion inserts new energy from assorted tactics, building in intensity over the repetitive main lines and ending in a thundering clap. Fries’ “Postcards From Abroad” provides the recording’s title, a rather subtle tune where repetitive, yet lyrical, exploration rules. “Hatteras Reflections” is a slow, meandering ballad initiated by Palombi’s solo of slightly whiney double tones. Fries steps in over the bass chords with a single line lope, and the ensuing interplay between bass and piano is exquisite in timing and harmony. Fries gives his “Orchid” a solitary dark and lush beginning, romantic in the historic sense. Steve Wilson guests on soprano sax, sailing gently over piano and bass, the nucleus of his orbit tight, the contours of his terrain gentle–it all stays close to home but the emotion travels far. On Fries’ final contribution, “Penns Creek,” Palombi’s solo doubletimes the pace, a nice contrast to the balladic pianist, as is the ensembles’ mid-track shift in energy and more forward motion.
As one might anticipate from a drummer, Keith Hall’s compositions lean more toward deeper swing, more percussive piano lines, and generally more playful rhythms. On “Wisdom…1st Things 1st”, Steve Wilson makes his first of three guest appearances, his soprano sax a good fit to Fries’ tight meanders and Hall’s furious and relentless attack. The drummer’s “Creative Force” opens with his stop-and-start antics, joined shortly by Fries with an equally halting presentation of a Monkish blues, using a deep ostinato in his left hand and quirky, sharp-angled figures in the right. There’s even a little whiff of Cecil Taylor hanging out among the flow of ideas as Fries and Hall interlock musical minds, the blues groove becoming more prominent, less edgy melodically and more so rhythmically before they return to the opening exchange. Hall’s third composition, “Grace,” is upbeat, showing off Fries’ diverse talents and moods. Of course Hall is prominent as well, working into a frenzy as he rumbles though Fries’ shimmering final bar.
Phil Palombi contributes a pair of tracks filled with swinging and even humorous motifs. On “Copenhagen,” sequences of repetitive phrases evolve into a swinging, upbeat tune with the bassist doubletiming his pulse while Fries keep up and then some. Palombi’s solo pushes a landslide of ideas over a slowed-down piano line before the trio returns to its earlier pace. The closing track, also the longest at over 9 minutes, finds the trio doing the “Heathrow Shuffle,” the bassist laying down a bluesy, backwater groove. He’s soon joined by Wilson on alto sax, adding a funk touch that evokes Lee Morgan’s “Sidewinder.” Wilson’s lines spiral in and out like a slinky while Fries is at his most charmingly swinging–this could be a soundtrack accompaniment to a zany classic film. The surprise guest here is Tri-Fi’s frequent employer, Curtis Stigers, in the spoken role of a Heathrow official, heard warning Hall that he can’t go through the security line, Hall begging his bandmates not to leave him behind.
Many journeys fill these Postcards, and each sends an engaging message, giving us good reason to travel with Tri-Fi again and again.