Plaistow present ‘Titan’

Photo: Mehdi Benkler

Photo: Mehdi Benkler

Plaistow set the bar high

Distilling their sound to its very essence, Plaistow have produced, Titan, a big statement from this piano trio led by Johann Bourquenez. With lofty track titles that have the double aspect of Saturn’s moons, and characters in Greek mythology, Plaistow set the bar high, but do they reach it?

They break their own spell

Very young children like to repeatedly bang a drum until you feel you want to punch them. Plaistow use a similar style with chords stabbed over and again, or single piano keys thumped, as in ‘Phoebe’ where Johann’s low notes are emphasised by Cyril Bondi’s simultaneous, single drum hits. This reiteration goes on, enforcing a sort of hypnosis, on both us and them, before – stop. They break their own spell with a sudden spin-around, taking a new direction in rhythm or melody. Plaistow are in control.

Subtle but malevolent bass strings

Often the beats don’t have any slack, or swing, although the deliberate rhythm-shifting and off-beats work well. ‘Kari’ starts with drama: a rattling snake of percussion, subtle but malevolent bass strings, and brushes of piano wire. Johann launches unapologetic, driving notes and with Cyril’s sparse drums, breaks the mood. There are movements in their compositions; each track becomes a surprising journey within itself.

A drone that cements the music

Cyril Bondi has upped his game with a few, assured themes. There are scuttling creatures, percussive bullet rounds and a cymbal-edge metal whine that’s particularly vital, a drone that cements the music to our ears. Vincent Ruiz’s bass is less confident, but within his subtlety there is a distinctive voice emerging, notably in ‘Pan’.

In my interview with Johann last year he explained that Plaistow disguise themselves a jazz trio but are “filled with techno and noise walls”. The tension between these impulses is exciting. Titan is a few tracks too long for me, but Plaistow have avoided an arrogant album by embracing whatever emerged in their improvisations; a genuine range of emotion. Some of these noise walls are woven from elegant melodies; there are romantic glimmers and a veil of Middle Eastern texture.

The piano runs are disturbing and unhinged

As a student I was into Jean Cocteau’s work. He spoke of self-realisation requiring someone to close their eyes, let themselves be taken unawares and follow their dark angel… Bourquenez also follows his light, he taps into his subconscious and gives voice to what he finds. This music has a palpable artistic energy because of that.

In ‘Tethys’ the piano runs are disturbing and unhinged but have the opposite effect in ‘Daphnis’ where the music literally washes wounds with wave after soothing wave. It brings a lump to my throat. ‘Enceladus’ makes my skin crawl, the goosebumps hardening momentarily before the music seems to force open the heart. It feels almost religious, a simple but stunning piece. Much of the album’s impact is physical.

Maybe I’m reading too much into it, or being too personal, but when I first met Johann he looked like he smoked too much and drank too many dark espressos. For this album, he kicked smoking, cycled daily and swam in Lac Leman. Titan is like a discovery of the physical self and of the elation kids feel when they run, climb, roll or bang a drum over and over and over…

New record
Plaistow, ‘Titan’

Plaistow tour dates:
07.11 Jazz Festival, Berlin (DE)
09.11 Jazzdor, Strasbourg (FR)
27.11 Les Murs du Son, La Chaux-de-Fonds (CH)
04.12 Jazz Festival, Jerusalem (IL)
10.12 Paradox, Tilburg (NL)
12.12 State-X Festival, The Hague (NL)
13.12 Jazzdock, Prague (CZ)
22.12 Moods, Zürich (CH)
13.01 2016 Bee-Flat, Bern (CH)

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