All About Jazz
December 1, 2019
The Russ Lossing Trio should record more. Ways, which follows the excellent Oracle (hatOLOGY, 2011), is just the second recording this longstanding trio has released. More music from them would allow fans to study the development of the chemistry between Lossing, bassist Masa Kamaguchi, and drummer Billy Mintz.
The instantaneous telepathy between piano, bass, and drums is evidence of this chemistry. Where does it come from? While that question may never be answered, we do have proof of its existence in these eight compositions. During the first minute-and-a-half of the opener "Passageway," we hear Lossing solo, working somewhere between jazz and 21st-century classical music. There's not a hint of indecisiveness here. The question is which parts are composed and which improvised. When Kamaguchi enters it is with just one note, as he does often here. That one note and a Mintz' cymbal wash are the abbreviations or the maybe the most efficient manner of addressing Lossing's music. The music does eventually get busy, but always with that well-ordered distribution of notes.
That interchange between jazz and classical music is woven throughout, both painted with an improvisatory brush. "Breezeway" opens with Lossing plucking strings inside his piano before Kamaguchi enters into a conversation with Lossing. The music picks up momentum, crests, then the sound decays as it exits. While bass and drums are here to accent Lossing's piano, he does accord space for soloing. "Archway," which is segued into "Skyway," affords Kamaguchi center stage for a chest-resonating bass solo. His solo maintains the central themes of Lossing's trio. They create by exploiting the tension between the formal and the free, utilizing both a lyrical and angular attack. "Causeway" cannot decide whether it will be a Tin Pan Alley song covered by Thelonious Monk or a textured composition by Meredith Monk. As it progresses, so does its forcefulness. The trio has visited this land before, and is comfortable with its high winds. Lossing can create tension by commotion, but also from the silence of the space he leaves between notes.
Point of Departure
On Ways, pianist Russ Lossing is joined by the rhythm section of bassist Masa Kamaguchi and drummer Billy Mintz. Heavyweights in their respective fields, Lossing, Kamaguchi, and Mintz have played together in numerous permutations, establishing a congenial sense of interplay. Drawn to the unique musical sensibility of Paul Motian, Lossing worked with the legendary drummer on a handful of albums, including As It Grows (hatOLOGY, 2004), and also paid tribute to the late artist (who died in 2011), with Drum Music: Music of Paul Motian (Sunnyside, 2012), a set of solo piano interpretations. Lossing's debt to Motian continues in this program of improvised pieces. All the compositions are based on open forms; sometimes the tunes are solemn and contemplative, other times brash and impassioned.
Lossing's unfettered improvisations comprise long-standing traditions and innovations of the avant-garde. With a catholic approach towards the vast history of the piano tradition, Lossing pairs a knotty right hand with a driving left, revealing a dark, modernist sensibility; everything from melancholy pointillism, spectral glissandi, and pulverizing clusters erupt from his keys. With virtuosic precision, he blazes a trail of dense chromatic voicings and sinuous lines that tumble forth with cascading intensity. Similarly, Kamaguchi's bold phrasing and robust tone is solidly omnipresent; his steady bass lines incorporate a range of techniques, from steely pizzicato to pulsating chords. A dynamic percussionist with a penchant for subtle accents, Mintz's ability to shade and color with crystalline clarity makes him a perfect accompanist in spare settings, but he can also swing with a vengeance, and there are several opportunities here for him to stretch out.
Transcending conventional notions of soloist and accompanist, the trio engages in three-way conversations that veer from impressionistic lyricism to visceral expressionism. Brimming with impetuous energy, the music transitions through different moods – from vibrant motifs and multi-hued ornaments to rippling passages and sudden shifts in tone. A freewheeling interpretation of a classic institution, Ways draws on a rich history, offering an expansive view of the contemporary jazz piano trio informed by the free jazz tradition.
New York City Jazz Record
Russ Lossing is both a distinguished and a distinctive
pianist. He’s produced a series of CDs over the past 20
years in solo, duo and trio formats ranging from free
improvisation to standards to two CDs dedicated to the
compositions of the late Paul Motian, both a mentor and
a collaborator. To all Lossing brings a forcefully linear
conception fusing a keen sense of space with intense
momentum. On Ways, he plays with his trio of bassist
Masa Kamaguchi and drummer Billy Mintz, previously
heard on Oracle (2008) and Motian Music (2017).
Each of Ways’ eight pieces is entitled by a word
including “way”, suggesting perhaps something of the
Tao, though the playfulness that extends the compound
titles includes “Breezeway”, itself suggestive of the
late John Ashbery’s 2015 collection of characteristically
mysterious, elliptical poems, at once plain-spoken,
pithy and unknowable. There’s something of that, too,
in the philosophical influence of John Cage on Lossing’s
work. It’s music that’s both intensely alive in the
instant and open to extended reflection.
The opening “Passageway” begins in a pressing
piano improvisation in which rapid, single-note lines
press upward, coil and press again. That intensity is
matched again and again in collaboration with his
partners. Kamaguchi is a fierce melodist who can impact
the music with one note that’s a miracle of coiled energy
while Mintz can move from subtle polyrhythmic chatter
to an explosion. “Causeway”, the title itself a fine
ambiguity, moves from near-serial keyboard abstraction
to dissonant clusters to collective improvisation
highlighted by swarming chromatic piano runs.
Ways is virtually a continuous hour-long suite,
segments sometimes separated by the briefest silence,
sometimes by nothing at all. Densities shift and
passions arise and ebb within a single episode.
“Passageway” ends with Mintz playing quietly,
disappearing into a silence broken an instant later by
Lossing in the piano interior at the same volume level.
The brief fifth track, “Skyway”, is an unaccompanied
bass solo introducing the trio’s “Byway”. The piano
solo “Away” disappears into brief nothingness only to
become the concluding “Way”. It’s a thoughtful,
compelling work, which expands with each hearing.
Russ Lossing Trio
(ezz-thetics by Hat Hut Records Ltd)
review by Marc Medwin
The title of this Russ Lossing trio date couldn't be more appropriate. Simple yet pithy, a four-letter word both evocative and deliciously direct, Ways is an album to match as the pianist fosters explorations encompassing those myriad connotations with winning ease and astonishing dexterity.
Maybe the most obvious set of references involves those still-relevant and often heated notions of "in" and "out." Lossing's explorations of the piano's innards offers realistic heft to a philosophical concern, as can be sampled on the aptly airy "Brreezeway." Differently weighted taps vie with wafer-thin pitched articulations until, as if on cue, bassist Masa Kamaguchi jabs with a three-note elucidation, or is it an exclamation? The satisfying whole perfectly encapsulates annotator Brian Morton's multifarious conceptions of space, so important to this group. The bassist gets to demonstrate similar conceptions on the astonishingly dynamic "Skyway, which leads to the gradual filling of space on the sharp-shock interplay of "Byway". Drummer Billy Mintz is largely responsible for the hot glue holding this track together; just listen to the molten interactions (yes, low-level dynamics can pack a lot of power!) between his snare and cymbals, bridging huge gaps between the various rhythmic and timbral points of improvised music's complex history.
That history, and its points of intersection as executed by this extraordinary trio, might be the title's most important connotation, and Lossing plays the intersections at every turn. His melodies, the contrapuntal webs they often weave, and their harmonic contexts all point to scholarship and invention in gorgeous symbiosis. The stunted notes on "Causeway" — it's tempting to hear them as updated grace notes — are as pretty as the sustains as Lossing shapes phrases and resultant lines of perfumed beauty. All of the elements, including those sinewy melodies, come to a glorious head on "Way" as the trio blasts off. If Andrew Hill's evolving sense of melody and Bill Evans' penchant for group dialogue are points of reference here, they are distant in the face of much historical and musical development. Kamaguchi's lines cover the bass's entire pitch spectrum, and while there is no containing Mintz's infectious swing, his sense of motive and melody is just as pervasive.
This is a trio of the 21st century, a trio whose ways are as diverse and yet unified as the history they represent and eschew. All is presented in a recording in which clarity of detail and soundstage are both excellent.