[JAZZ] If the kids pried jazz from the old institutions that keep the music on life support and reinvented it for themselves—could this music be cool again? And what would a generation of new jazz fans look like? These are questions that keep me up at night.
Portland's Trio Subtonic probably isn't going to lead the jazz uprising—the music isn't radical, just rad; these aren't exactly "kids," unless you measure in jazz years—but there is a refreshing wanderlust on the band's new disc, I'll Meet You There Tomorrow. Because the trio can leap from the down-and-dirty funk of "High Country" to a sprawling ballad-turned-groove like "Garage & Grace" without throwing the listener off its scent (thank Jesse Brooke's playful and unconventional drumming for that, in large part), this is a jazz trio for those of us with a Saturday morning cartoon attention span.
That's not to say that I'll Meet You There Tomorrow doesn't reward patience: The tidal changes of "Obsidian Blue" are subtle, showcasing the interplay between versatile keyboardist Galen Clark and bassist Bill Athens. But the compositions here stay intact throughout five- and six-minute songs, so the novice jazz listeners can follow most tunes all the way through while still enjoying solos and funky breakdowns that pepper the disc. That seems to me a trick learned from pop music far removed from jazz standards.
For example, when Trio Subtonic gets to the now-customary Elliott Smith cover, Clark and company avoid well-worn and standard-esque songs like "Between the Bars" in favor of "Independence Day," a tune that resists easy taming. Trio Subtonic's version adds groove but resists giving Smith a cocktail-hour glow.
Not every decision on I'll Be There Tomorrow is a good one: It runs long by about one funk tune and Scott Pemberton's electric guitar flourishes on "String Theory" are too showy to fit the album's tone. But the disc is, on the whole, refreshingly driven and complete-sounding as an album. Hell, the kids might even like it.
SEE IT: Trio Subtonic plays the Art Bar, 1111 SW Broadway, on Friday, Feb. 24. 9:30 pm. Free. All ages.