The Music

Album Review: “Impact” by U.S.E. Trio

"Here, the lack of a conventional harmony instrument allows the trio to communicate their ideas with nothing more than the unadorned essentials: rhythm, bass, and melody. The musicians deploy the full extent of their resources to ensure the listener never feels that absence. The focus, energy, and precision of the ensemble's interplay and the fluency of their improvisation provide plenty to occupy a listener's attention."

By Jeffrey Glenn

Available April 1, 2020 on LabelWhoAble

Over their short history, the U.S.E. Trio has quickly established itself as one of the most exciting new jazz combos in Philadelphia, PA with their debut record Sideways Circle, their monthly Creative Concepts in Jazz series at the Maas Building, and now on Impact, their latest recorded offering. 

The U, S, and E, in this case, are saxophonist Andrew Urbina, drummer Matt Scarano, and bassist Sandy Eldred, three young but already seasoned performers who have served as sidemen for jazz notables in Philly and elsewhere and launched their own projects. Here, the lack of a conventional harmony instrument allows the trio to communicate their ideas with nothing more than the unadorned essentials: rhythm, bass, and melody. The musicians deploy the full extent of their resources to ensure the listener never feels that absence. The focus, energy, and precision of the ensemble’s interplay and the fluency of their improvisation provide plenty to occupy a listener’s attention.

A composition from Eldred kicks things off in a broadly modal vein. “Terakawa,” named for a local ramen shop for which the bassist holds, to put it mildly, a special affinity, lumbers in with an insistent bass ostinato, joined shortly by Scarano’s subtle gestures rhythmically recontextualizing the bassline, and then by Urbina’s nimble arpeggios. The tune then lurches into a rhythmically dexterous 23-beat (11/8+6/4) diatonic B major melody, answered by a B Dorian section. A da capo reprise follows as the trio moves through the form again and Scarano ramps up the energy into the solo sections. Characteristic of U.S.E.’s music, here each performer is given his space to take the lead, as the others recede into creative, but not distracting, accompaniment. Scarano is an active drummer while remaining subtle and never overbearing. The inherent sparseness of the texture allows the drums to take up a wide range of sonic space, and Scarano makes full use of it. Urbina’s tasteful phrasing is equally suited to poignant melody and chaotic multiphonic wailing, and he dispenses each with economical effectiveness. Eldred’s sensitivity to texture and motivic coherence make his solos particular points of interest, as the contrast of the low dynamic draws the listener into the music.

Next is “Row House,” a slice of night-drive jazz whose noirish grit and shifting Locrian lines befit its subject. “Evening Chorale” follows with rubato counterpoint between Eldred and Urbina against Scarano’s atmospheric backdrop. The ensemble moves through the form at its own pace, stretching, contracting, and embellishing the lines over the length of the piece, building in intensity. Closer “Impact” begins delicately, with Eldred’s naked, mostly-triadic triple stops in G major, abruptly swept aside in a fiery E minor section as the full ensemble crashes in. The triple-stop section repeats, this time with a bare, plaintive saxophone melody singing above, and the return of the E minor section leads into the solos. When Eldred’s arco freakout amid unison hits turns on a dime back to the diatonic sentimentality of the G major section, it is a singular representation of the trio’s ability to interleave simple, plain beauty with disorienting rhythmic and harmonic adventurousness.

There is plenty here to appeal to devoted listeners and musicians as well as curious jazz neophytes. The production from tracking and mix engineer Tom Spiker and mastering engineer Tom Volpicelli is clear and crisp, providing a realistic picture of the trio’s performance style. This is an ensemble and a record bursting with ideas and energy, yielding fresh rewards with repeated listening, and every local music lover would be wise to keep a close watch for their records and events.

Listen to Impact April 1, 2020 on U.S.E. Trio’s Bandcamp.

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