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Michele Rabbia, Gianluca Petrella, Eivind Aarset - Lost River (ECM)

6 June 2019

Once upon a time the term “contemporary instrumental” got thrown around a lot, mainly as a euphemism for the saccharine sounds of new age or fuzak. But if any album deserves this literal description, it’s Lost River, the debut by the speechless trio of drummer Michele Rabbia, trombonist Gianluca Petrella and guitarist Eivind Aarset. Mostly improvised, the music on the record defies easy category: is it jazz? Ambient music? Psychedelia? Electronica? All of the above? Rabbia keeps the rhythms sedate but insistent, playing around the beat while still keeping a steady pulse – a tricky proposition that plenty of percussionists don’t master. Aarset rarely uses his axe for anything obvious – his sustained lines, watery chords and high-frequency shimmers serve more as painted strokes than riffs or rhythm parts. Petrella is the wild card, his soloing coming closest to traditional jazz improvisation, though even he bends his horn to serve mood more than melody.

The trio’s apparently telepathic interplay allows them to fill space without stepping on each other’s toes, whether on interactive thrusts of spontaneity like “Night Sea Journey” or quiet breezes of sound like the title track. One sometimes wishes the musicians would ignore protocol once in a while and wail away – Aarset in particular can raise quite a ruckus when he’s of a mind. But the way the trio spontaneously singles in on one plangent vision, conjuring spirits and calcimining sound pictures, is mightily impressive.