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01/04/14

Stephan Crump's Rosetta Trio
Thwirl
Sunnyside

On Thwirl, Stephan Crump’s Rosetta Trio plays things a bit closer to the vest than they did on their sparkling previous outing, Reclamation. But they still deliver plenty of irresistible moments with their unusual combination of electric and acoustic guitars (played by Jamie Fox and Liberty Ellman, respectively) and acoustic bass (played by the leader).

The music, almost all of it composed by Crump, isn’t always easy to classify. But as the trio applies its tightly knit sound to the gently skipping jazz of “He Runs Circles,” the rangy blues of “Still Stolid” and the dancing minimalism of the title cut, categories cease to matter. What does matter is the players’ agility and warmth, whether they’re spinning out notes in crisp counterpoint, trading lyrical leads or opening up space for Crump’s strong, shapely figures.

For all their nods to folk and classical tradition, these musicians are confirmed experimentalists. On the dark, probing “Whiteout,” Fox cranks out eerie sustained tones over Ellman’s ostinato figures. “Flotsam” is all about abstract shapes and cool silences. The guitarists are adept at trading roles: Ellman, best known as an electric acolyte of Henry Threadgill, can sound positively plugged-in here, while Fox is able to slip comfortably into an acoustic-type sound. Crump, acclaimed for his work in the Vijay Iyer Trio, never allows the Rosetta Trio to settle into a cozy chamber-style mindset, sometimes pushing that envelope to stealthy effect from the center.

Originally published in December 2013
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