MUT Trio at the LEM Festival – dancing on the edge

Miguel Fernández (tenor saxophone)
Albert Juan (electric guitar)
Oriol Roca (drums)

MUT Trio were appearing at Soda as part of the programme for the LEM experimental music festival, a yearly event that always brings together a wide variety of non-mainstream soundmakers. I was unable to get out to see much of the 2016 programme but I wasn’t about to miss MUT Trio…

MUT Trio are somehow both deeply rooted in jazz history and at the same time utterly free of borrowed cliché. In this leaderless trio, with a dual focus on melody and texture, saxophone, guitar and drums each provide carefully expressed melodic and rhythmic fragments and shards that coalesce into tunes astringent and sweet. It’s a spontaneous melding of free jazz liberty with an urge for melodic structure, plus occasional bursts of joy and the odd dab of broken funk.

Fittingly, given they are the MUT(e) Trio, the set starts with about a minute of silent expectation, slowly the bar sounds drop away as the sound vacuum draws attention to the stage. Fernández, Juan and Roca wait patiently, all the time in the world until…

…Roca sets up a shimmering rhythmic pulse, flagging and rallying in a constant cycle that creates a canvas for … a series of chordal swells from Juan’s guitar, almost cello-like in its smooth sonority, which in turn invites… slow languorous, unhurried, 3 or 4-note melodic fragments from Fernández…

As the set progresses, we enjoy tastes of jagged discordancy, painterly percussion, impressions of hard bop phrasing, drone-like backdrops over which riffs circle and wait, dirty atonal duelling, and pure dialogue. The aural landscape is constantly shifting and evolving, morphing with ease from one form of expression to another.

By the end, I’ve come to the conclusion that MUT Trio are, in fact, the quintessential postmodern jazz outfit, bridging the gap between conventional jazz satisfaction and freely improvised edginess. At the heart of their sound is a constant sense of space, softening the edges of even the harder-toned passages; a clear separation even in the densest moments. MUT Trio makes its home right on the edge of the classic trio sound, never falling into it but constantly and playfully referring to it, quoting it, flirting with it.

MUT Trio are soon to release their fourth album, “My Ship” on Fresh Sound Records (with bassist Masa Kamaguchi joining as guest). Here’s a short teaser…