European jazz with ancient roots

Zalmoxis Trio

Aquamarine (2005)

Zalmoxis Trio have been working together for about eighteen months running up to this, their first official album release. The main reason for the long rehearsal time is that the time signatures and rhythms within their music require a good deal of innate understanding between the players, let alone intense rehearsal to get the ‘feel’ into a natural and flexible state. Recorded at Carla Bayle, atop a hillside in the beautiful central Pyrenees region of Ariège, the music is inspired by the surroundings and informed by a number of often ancient musical styles. Composer and group violinist/pianist David Thompson has been very influenced by his extensive travels in Eastern Europe, former Soviet Union countries and the Middle East (he’s also contributed a number of travel articles to Conde Nast magazine). A deep interest in Indian classical music, shared also by bassist Gerard Frykman and drummer/percussionist Vincent Chalot, has further developed the trio’s musical approach. Thompson often uses scales from the Indian classical mode as a basis for his violin work and several tracks on Aquamarine feature these scales and tuning.
The disc, a full-length 79-minute recording, holds a total of ten tracks which vary from the very dance-rhythmic to music featuring complex asymetric rhythms. Merman X, the opening track, hits you instantly with a full-on blast of the trio which gradually, almost imperceptibly, moves from uptempo into a more reflective mood then travels into dub-trance violin-propelled zones before building to a wonderful crescendo finish.

Chalot’s work is deeply embroiled with the art of tabla and the ever-prescient Frykman shows a real understanding and feel for his colleagues’ performance, evinced by his ultra-subtle bass playing. Classic jazz themes also have a strong presence here – Callisto, for instance, has a piano voice which would not sound amiss, for example, in an Abdullah Ibrahim piece. On the other side of the coin the prelude to Prospero’s Groove, entitled Prospero’s Alap, sees the violin played according to Indian scales leading a very laid-back performance of repetetive bass line accompanied by bells & cymbals. Prospero’s Groove itself takes the themes developed in the alap (just as in a Indian classical music performance) into a more powerfully rhythmic space, where Chalot is given full reign to display his considerable percussive abilities. The title track and its further development in Aqualatine! move, through their collective 13 minutes’ length, into Balkan & Middle-Eastern regions and it would take a very educated scholar of music to pull some of the time-signatures apart, suffice to say that the trio pull off the performance not only with gusto but also with an execution which touches perfection.

Having been fortunate enough to attend one of the recording sessions from Aquamarine and seen the group playing so effortlessly together I’d say that this album is a precursor to widespread recognition and admiration for Zalmoxis on both the jazz and world music circuits throughout Europe.