It took a while, but I’ve started to figure out what my preferences are in regards to jazz. Unfortunately, it’s not jazz outfits like Montreal’s own Daniel Arthur Trio. Their latest release FIRE DEMO is frantic, noisy, technically impressive, and sometimes way too drawn out. For some reason, three-fourths of that list are things I adore in other genres, like punk rock and pop, but are the exact opposite of what I want from jazz.
Which isn’t to say these songs have no redeeming value. The band’s rhythm section, Ethan Cohn and Eric Maillet, create dynamic timing that makes the songs exciting but also makes the “job” of pianist and band leader, Daniel Arthur, more difficult. I put the word job in quotations for two reasons. One, this opinion is based entirely on the role I wish he played in the band’s sound and is completely at odds with the sound he is obviously going for. Two, as a music reviewer who got to listen to this album for free while writing about it, Mr. Arthur owes me nothing.
That said, I wish calm piano parts had offset the chaos created by the frantic rhythm section. This was not the case. Daniel’s playing is just as frantic as Ethan and Eric’s, and there’s something about the sound of a piano being played this way that I find grating. Most of his notes are quick and repetitive, using the piano more like a percussive instrument than anything else. My favourite piano part comes in the EP’s final track, “When Will The Mars Text Come?” It opens with a piano riff that is quick and bass-y but quickly reinforced with something that is slow, melodic, and dramatic. The drums take on the responsibility of making the song dynamic and jumpy, and achieves this with a variety of tone. It starts so quietly that it’s almost like the drums and cymbals are whispering, and eventually getting louder as the song itself seems to wake up. Around the five-minute mark, the piano returns to its usual frantic pace before settling down again in the song’s final moments.
The majority of this song creates an interesting contrast to the record’s opening song, “Glass,” which is my least favourite. Each time I listened to FIRE DEMO, I found myself checking how far into the album I was and being disappointed that I wasn’t even done the first song. In some ways, that’s not a bad thing. It’s always exciting when a song contains multiple parts that sound like individual songs in their own right. The problem is due to their spastic nature each part failed to grab my attention, and it made the whole song feel drawn out. The EP’s remaining two tracks also have multiple parts that make them feel drawn out.
My favourite part of the record is the consistent and earthy bass tones. Sometimes they’re felt more than heard, but when noticed or focused upon, the soft wooden tones create calm within the chaos. Jazz aficionados will no doubt enjoy this record for its technical wizardry and dedication to maintaining a plethora of jazz traditions. That said, if you’ve never really cared about jazz, this record will do nothing to change that.
Written by Brian Charles Clarke
*edited by Danielle Kenedy