Trevor Dunn’s new Trio-Convulsant release is not just the work of a trio. In addition to Dunn on bass, Mary Halvorson on guitar, and Ches Smith on drums, this “trio” also includes Carla Kihlstedt on viola and violin, Oscar Noriega on clarinets, Mariel Roberts on cello, and Anna Webber on flutes. Thus, Sèances is perhaps better thought of as a trio plus chamber quartet.
The last time we heard from Trio-Convulsant was on 2004’s Sister Phantom Owl Fish. At that time, Dunn was mostly known as the bassist of avant-rock group Mr. Bungle, while Halvorson and Smith were new on the scene. Fast forward to today, Dunn has deviated afar from the deviances of Mr. Bungle, while Halvorson and Smith have established themselves as leaders in the New York creative music scene through dozens of albums and countless live performances. Indeed, perhaps the most notable aspect of this reunion is that Dunn was able to convince the other two to find time in their busy schedules.
In short, this album is wonderful. It contains Dunn’s deft compositions for this extended trio, fully-packed with ideas. Sèances rarely slows down and often involves simultaneous contributions from all seven players. As just one example, Restore All Things begins with a rather involved bass / drum line from Dunn and Smith, accompanied by subdued picking from Halvorson. Slowly the wind and string instruments join with quiet washes and flourishes. As the piece evolves, the playing gets louder and more frantic. Halvorson hits a few angular chords then rips through an effects-laden solo. Beyond the halfway point the structure changes to a jagged rhythm supporting drones and a brilliantly disjointed solo from Webber before returning to the general approach that opened the track. As Dunn puts it, “[y]ou can’t get more apocalyptic than a single-note drone, glissandi strings, and micro-tonal flute.”
And as a final note, Sèances is based on the Convulsionnaires of Saint-Médard. Dunn describes how each piece came about, and in doing so pulls away the curtain of his process in a fashion that is rarely shared, adding further degrees of color to this release.
Album of the year candidate? Yeah, I can see that.