Tom Rainey Trio with Ingrid Laubrock and Mary Halvorson at the Vortex

Mary Halvorson, Ingrid Laubrock. Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2013. All Rights Reserved


Tom Rainey Trio, with Ingrid Laubrock and Mary Halvorson
(Vortex, 12th June 2013. Review and drawing by Geoff Winston)


With standards so high in jazz and improvised music today it nevertheless still comes as a thrilling surprise to hear such a refined trio gently pushing the jazz boundaries beyond expectations. With drummer Tom Rainey centre stage, his partner, saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock to the right and guitarist Mary Halvorson tucked in to the left of the tiny Vortex stage, Rainey declared that there could be no better venue than the Vortex to play on the last date of their 6-date tour of the UK and Germany. And the proof was in the playing.

To a spellbound audience that included several musicians, this was a lesson in how high to set the bar. The trio's breadth of combined expressive and technical facility was underpinned with an ingrained understanding of the modernist heritage of their individual instruments and a shared explorative mentality that was constantly finding jumping off points for idiosyncratic, inventive paths within a tight, interactive framework.

The first hints were of Ornette's quirky deconstructionist take on how jazz recreates its own language. Rainey set the threads moving, with hesitant taps and a deliberately off-the-beat stress. Halvorson's light brushes with the fretboard, akin to a crab scuttling over sand, pulled out echoey sustains, drifts and acoustic flickers with a sense of quizzical discovery. Laubrock added the dynamic of voiced layers that constantly shifted perspective to suit the moment - slipping from a delicate tiptoe to the gutsiness of a Rollins run.

They would uncover a melodic tick and chase it, scampering through a darkened labyrinth, transforming it, twisting it, with a tactile, physical edge, just hanging on to it, Alice-in-Wonderland style. "Look after the senses and the sounds will look after themselves," to quote the Duchess.

Rainey was circularity, clock-wise, a windmill of limbs, precise, yet unpredictable - lowing mimicked by pulling hands across the skins, a passage of high metallic rings played out on the drum bodies, hand drumming to intensify the spoken qualities hidden in the percussion. Duet spells with Laubrock were frenetic, fast-moving. On soprano she broke in to a fleeting flourish of straight jazz, backed with Rainey’s swing drum. On tenor, more bullish squawks, then unravelling clusters of notes, stretching them out with bright, confident modulation. Halvorson complemented with liquid tones, lightly charged feedback and a trickling acoustic solo. Grizzly, chordal rhythms sprinkled with perfectly placed harmonics added depth to Rainey's percussive patterns.

The trio didn't get trapped for a second in signature style - their sophisticated range and the confidence in the dialogues they have built up over the years allowed them to find ledges and pools where they could linger then get back in to the swim to come up with a refreshingly subversive stream of sonic surprise. Another very special evening at the Vortex.

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