John Hébert Trio – Floodstage (CF 290)
Bassist John Hébert has clearly picked up a thing or two from his association with some of the hottest names in the business, from Andrew Hill and Fred Hersch to Mary Halvorson, Ingrid Laubrock, Peter Evans and Taylor Ho Bynum. He steps into the limelight on Floodstage, the sophomore effort by his trio with French pianist Benoît Delbecq, renowned for his use of piano preparations, and in-demand drummer Gerald Cleaver. He’s made his choice of bandmates wisely, as they follow the model of egalitarian interplay championed by pianist Bill Evans and developed via the likes of Paul Bley and Howard Riley.
Hébert’s writing generates unforced but thoughtful interaction full of barely suppressed emotion. Although leader, the Louisiana native remains unshowy. His solid resonance allied to flawless judgement gives his contributions an air of inevitability, as he appears to subscribe to the Charlie Haden school of bass playing, in which one note takes the place of ten. Cleaver proves the perfect foil, his subtle impressionistic momentum, comprising splashy cymbals, tappy percussion and tight rolls, hinting at the beat but rarely settling on it consistently. Delbecq combines polyrhythms with melodic fragments and
minimalist repetition, which mesh into a propulsive latticework, most persuasively on the unaccompanied “Saints” and then with accompaniment on the subsequent “Sinners”.
In a splendid opening summing up the ambience of the disc, both weighty and airy at the same time, “Cold Brewed” offers a heady mix of prepared and
regular piano, amid a flurry of cymbals and measured bass. To that Delbecq adds some birdlike warbles from his analog synth in one of the most tasteful uses of electronics on record, neither sounding alien or overwhelming the acoustic instruments. On the title cut, tension between bass and piano resolves into an off-kilter swing, where the three demonstrate their mastery, slightly expanding and contracting the time.
A similarly left field approach informs the only nonoriginal, an intriguing rendition of the traditional “Just A Closer Walk With Thee”, which drifts dreamily in and out of bluesy focus. Nothing is quite what it seems,
except that there is more to appreciate with each listen.