Folk: free acoustic jazz improv with imagination, power and a wicked sense of humour

“A” Trio, Folk, Lebanon, Al Maslakh Records, MSLKH 025 limited edition vinyl LP (2022)

Claiming to be the oldest free jazz improv group to have come out of Lebanon, “A” Trio celebrated their 20th anniversary in 2022 by embarking on a tour early in the year of Europe and North America; releasing “Folk”, the album under review, for Al Maslakh Records, and a live album “The Binding Third” for German label Unrock; and then to celebrate the release of “Folk”, undertaking a second tour of Europe. I guess when these guys eventually celebrate 25 years of playing together in 2027, they’ll be putting on non-stop music performances in the studio and on the stage from one month to the next. This thrilling threesome consists of trumpeter Mazen Kerbaj, Sharif Sehnaoui on acoustic guitar and Raed Yassin on double bass, and in case you insist on knowing what these guys might look like (presumably because you want to be the first to get tickets to their Silver Anniversary tours), the front cover of “Folk” gives handy clues of what to expect and how close as musicians and friends Kerbaj, Sehnaoui and Yassin are.

“Folk” begins in lively fashion with “Folk(s) Music”, a restless and urgent lurching, galloping piece that demands your attention; once it has all your senses trained on it, off it goes into the wild blue yonder taking you wherever it will. There are no familiar points of reference – no obvious rhythms or melodies that you can get ahold of – so you have to cling onto the trio’s coattails as it were, trusting the musicians to take you at least into pleasant sonic territory and not leave you there. And initially pleasant places a-plenty can be found in “Folk(s) Music”, though you may have to gallop through them just to keep up with the musicians. “Rugged Land” is as hard and gritty as the title suggests, the music sounding a little industrial-lite with all that whirring droning going on and jittery rhythms playing beneath. Over its ten-minute playing time, this track is very consistent in its textures and hurrying mood.

The remaining three tracks “Cold Blood”, “Song from the Valley” and “A Town with No Imam” are much shorter and for that reason alone are more internally consistent. They’re no less startling in their sounds, with “Cold Blood” in particular featuring some shockingly knife-edged sharp tones over trumpet droning and shrill robot crow cries. (Note that the album does not include any electronics or overdubbing.) “Song from the Valley” seems like lovely bucolic relief from the serial killer theatrics of “Cold Blood” but the music darkens as it continues. Final track “A Town with No Imam” proceeds as a droney dirge for a funeral march but even here the music is gritty and maintains an edgy tension in its sonorous double bass ruminations.

For free jazz improv, using acoustic instruments, this album turns out playful and imaginative, surprisingly loud and powerful, and possesses a sly and wicked sense of humour. Even though the recording is not long, it’s a completely absorbing listening experience, and a very enjoyable one as well.

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