Howard Riley begins the liner notes of Another Part of the Story, a piano trio convened with fellow English improvising pianists John Tilbury and Keith Tippett, by remarking on the fortuity of finding three grand pianos in the same studio. Of more relevance are three pianists who, despite working in the same environment early in their careers, are distinct enough to be an effective three-pronged attack.
The title is appropriate as the album serves as several depending on the focus of the listener. One can concentrate on a particular pianist (separated by clearly audible channels), the interaction between pairs or the work as a whole. In order to comprehend fully this dense example of an uncommon genre - piano duos are widespread (Tippett and Riley have done several including two together) - listening in steps in necessary.
Each pianist, though reacting to the efforts of his compatriots, maintains his personal approach to playing. Riley, in the center channel by virtue of his role as leader, is the classicist of the trio. Tilbury, veteran of British improv stalwarts AMM, contributes fractured takes on sound and prepared instrumentation. Tippett is ever the stylistic explorer.
Since the three have had long established careers, what is striking about the album is the ample room each gives the others. Not working within a composed framework like the MPS summit albums (trombone, violin, alto) and well aware of the possibility of an unappetizing soup, Riley, Tilbury and Tippett tread lightly.
This delicacy does not preclude energy, particularly in the raucous opener "Jump Up," Most of the set though is a slow tumble down from this early ascent. "Equanimity" has a lush feel to it, initiated by an almost Russian classical glissando by Tippett. The middle of the album is the most exploratory, two tracks, "Equal Play" and "Being Prepared" (14:18 and 21:26 respectively) bookending the just over 7 minutes of "Sonorities One and Two". "Equal Play" is tentative, building sparsely over fragments begun by one pianist and continued by another. The pace quickens and the trio rumbles off like a runaway carriage. Though this is certainly avant garde music, a sense of order within chaos is always maintained. "Sonorities" is an investigation into prepared piano and minimalism. As well done as this approach usually is and of more interest to some than others.
"Being Prepared" has a slightly more mystical Black Forest feel than normally expected from English improvised music, buoyed by Tippett's quirky arpeggios and the bolt- and clip-armed Tilbury. A beautiful segment comes at the 7-minute mark, featuring compelling work by Riley and chain-prepared piano. It is also the most percussive of the album's eight.
The end of Another Part of the Story is the most cohesive trio effort, the melodies handed off to each player every few seconds like a baton in a relay. Riley is also the most in the forefront, displaying his unique sense of form, progressive-minded to be sure but shying away from the destructive properties of a Cecil Taylor. The 54-second closer, "Pow," lets the three have fun, a manic dash with no fear of the eventual piano-tuning bill.
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