Free improvisation requires musicians to make numerous quick decisions, such as knowing when to bring the music to a collective halt rather than letting it continue down a new path. Borderlands Trio—pianist Kris Davis, bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Eric McPherson—explores this idea from several angles on its first recording. In “Carnaval Hill” the trio is on fire, roaming freely and making a complete statement in 2:06, a short blast for any jazz musician. This comes immediately after “Borderlands,” which takes up half of Asteroidea’s 52-minute program. It begins with Davis banging a 7/8 riff on prepared piano strings, which evokes a slapped bass guitar. The tense sound could function as a soundtrack to a spy film, but this section fades one-quarter of the way into the track, moving into loose conversation. Around the 18-minute mark, things seem ready to wrap up until McPherson delicately breaks the silence with a solo. In both extremes, the players reveal their cooperative strength.
There are moments during the remainder of the album that sound like the group is investigating their collective powers without taking them to an exciting end. “Flockwork” gets under the skin when Davis uses the prepared piano to imitate the static sound of a ticking timepiece. If Crump were to take the lead it might have added a spark to the piece, but he holds back with slower supporting notes. The pianist begins “From Polliwogs” with some similarly abrasive repetition, but this time it initiates deeper thinking. McPherson’s opening statement in “Body Waves” coaxes more playful, angular ideas from Davis and Crump. It feels loose but hints at what might develop in future meetings.