Brooklyn, NY band True East is, by self-definition, a jazz trio. However the group’s lack of sonic support from conventional jazz instruments like the piano, the guitar, or any variety of saxophone, immediately reveals this band’s debut, First EP, doesn’t retreat to an easy route for providing a memorable melody or groove. Post-bop music exists, by its very nature, as a somewhat provocative jazz sub-genre for listeners and a stimulating one for its players. As a response style to the free jazz movement, post-bop does manage to bridge the gap between extreme absence of melodic an-or rhythmic form, and the uniform foundations of traditional jazz that preceded it.
True East is:
Dan Lehner (Trombone)
Ran Livneh (Bass)
Zack O’Farrill (Drums)
Still, as a form-tenuous sub-genre, there remains the possibility for loss of direction while listening – especially considering that all four of First EP‘s tracks are over four and a half minutes each. Looking at the other side of the same coin though, even with the fragilities created by having a tone-minimal palette of trombone, drums, and bass available, for any free-form tendencies exercised on First EP, the less common timbre combination does simultaneously instill a sense of intrigue and encourages engagement, simply by being heard as it is.
Those less familiar with or exposed to Afro-Latin style and-or post-bop are likely to need some warming up to First EP, for the aforementioned reasons. The fact that opening track “Trash Causes Track Fires” takes a good two minutes before all three gentlemen are actively playing together, emphasizes just how much it pays to have patience and a relaxed disposition when diving into the EP. The music not focusing on a path of linear development is another two sided coin for this record. On the one hand, it promotes active listening because the musical phrasing isn’t wholly predictable. Yet on the other, the idea that a listener can’t necessarily predict where the central motif of a piece is going, leaves open the option to simply enjoy the music as it’s happening in each moment without concern for the before or after.
Choosing to go beyond track one with this mindset at the forefront pays off nicely, as True East’s mild inclusion of “indie rock sensibilities” ultimately brings in enough organization and approachable familiarity to make the other three tracks fly by, even given their lengths. Lehner’s dual skill of performance and skill with many mutes give his trombone several extra layers of sonic personality that would otherwise feel stifled. “The Mountain” is a prime showing of that personality as Lehner’s thin but wailing horn tone blends with O’Farrill’s soft cymbal rolls and Livneh’s clear defined but unimposing bass guitar to create an energy that resonates with old-fashioned detective film noir. Placed among the touches of auxiliary bell, stick tap, and splash cymbal tones and this film imagery suddenly gets transported to a mid-century smoky lounge in Havana or underground Brooklyn. Meanwhile, though the majority of “ESP” then moves the record into a lane packed with various frenetic percussive tones, the upbeat motif is kept neatly on a rhythmic balance beam, with the seemingly chaotic gush of percussion kept consistent enough for long enough that it makes for a lively, if not mildly exhausting piece to which to dance.
As “Volver” then proceeds to take the EP to its endpoint, True East let go of the listener’s hand. The five minute closer moves through all the stages of friendly opening motif by a solo trombone introduction, to a cooperative and fairly equal-sounding section of trip performance that builds on the memorable, syncopated six note theme, before letting the structural frame loosen a bit as Lehner improvises and solos in the middle with less concern for letting the downbeat always come through clearly. But then as Livneh is given the sonic space to play a second, cyclical motif the tease of disarray dissipates and doesn’t return through the end, even as the trip gives the final few bars a dynamic and collaborative push over the finish line.
Once the EP is over, it becomes clear that the overall experience of True East’s debut is very much like a rollercoaster or thriller film: there is an ascent and exposition that requires some dedicated investment, a series of moments where things are quite fun but also uncertain and therefore intimidating, and by the end it seems like one has endured a lot but the first feeling after the fact is a positive blend of pleasant surprise and a desire to go again. Then, who knows: after enough rides, listeners might just be inspired to take up other experiences, knowing this new one was very much worthwhile to give a try.
First EP is available now.
Find it on Bandcamp.
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