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THRIO: THRIO Volume 1. Andrew Berinson, piano; Paul Creel, bass; Donovan Cheatham, drums. Thriomusic © 2022, TT: 56:34. Available on all music streaming platforms on September 2nd. Available to pre-save now.
In an era of jazz where the bands are bigger, more electronic, and moving closer to progressive rock than the music that inspired them in the first place, bands like North Carolina-based THRIO are a welcome change. They are a jazz trio borne out of "a shared sense of freedom, creativity, exploration, and love and respect for the jazz tradition," and this sentiment is felt throughout the entirety of their debut album, THRIO Volume 1.
The first two tracks, "Overture" and "Oliloqui Valley," function as an opening of the curtains, a first glimpse into the style of THRIO that I grew to love over the course of the album. "Overture" literally evoked images of opening curtains in my mind, akin to that of Chopin in the openings of his Ballades. It was a perfect introduction piece because it allowed me to hear the talents of pianist Andrew Berinson, bassist Paul Creel, and drummer Donovan Cheatham – each one immensely talented on their own, but masterful when playing together. With "Oliloqui Valley," I got a sense of the underlying groove of the trio, as it was impossible to ignore all the jazz traditions that influence them. The piece has a Latin feel but constantly switches seamlessly between both "straight" and swinging feels, which is a technique used throughout Volume 1 on tracks like "Swingin' at The Haven" and "Alone Together."
Those seamless transitions became one of my favorite parts of the album and provided many "wait a second" moments where I had to run the music back and confirm what I just heard. This applied not only to the rhythmic changes in the music but also to what each member played individually. Whether that be Berinson's almost Baroque playing in "Alone Together" (which I greatly appreciated as a classical pianist who loves jazz), Creel's down-and-dirty bass intro and solo in "Pandeemia," or Cheatham's fills and solos throughout – his snare techniques, specifically – I got just as much enjoyment as listening to the ensemble as a whole. THRIO's ability to create music that still feels fresh on second and third listens is what takes their album from good to great.
I appreciated THRIO's understanding of gospel's place in jazz with "Find Your Way Blues" and their rendition of "Amazing Grace," which comes back in a reprise later on in the album. Hearing Berinson's bluesy gospel playing took me back to my childhood in churches and learning gospel piano before I learned anything else. People often forget that American churches were one of the places jazz started, and it is always nice to see jazz bands pay respect to that.
A trio comprised of piano, bass, and drums lends itself to being piano-heavy, but THRIO Volume 1 never felt like the group became the Andrew Berinson Trio, and the strong group mentality is something the trio emphasizes. In the progressive rock/jazz genre I mentioned at the beginning of this review, many groups perform with different members every night based on who is available nearby. With THRIO, however, "if one of [them] is not there, it's not THRIO." Their music is by no means simple, but it allows you to choose your own adventure, whether that be challenging your analytical musical mind or simply sitting there and enjoying the groove. All of this combines to create an experience that hearkens back to the musicians that brought jazz to the forefront of American culture in the 20th century. Admittedly, I have enjoyed my fair share of modern, electronic, complex jazz, as I enjoy the challenges it presents. But, THRIO has shown that there is a place for groups that honor the legacy of jazz and are able to do it with a modern, unique sound. After hearing Volume 1, I cannot wait for Volume 2. THRIO Volume 1 will be available in its entirety on September 2 – in the meantime, you can catch the single "Find Your Way" on Youtube.
THRIO will be celebrating their album release throughout the Triangle in September; their album release party on Friday, September 16 will be hosted by NorthStar Church of the Arts in Durham, bookended by not one, but three more concerts on September 2, 4, and 23 (purchase tickets for the first installment here!). See our calendar for more information about the performances.