JC Sanford’s Triocracy: Pyramid Scheme (Shifting Paradigm)

A review of the trombonist-led trio's latest album

Pyramid Scheme, JC Sanford's Triocracy
The cover of Pyramid Scheme by JC Sanford’s Triocracy

JC Sanford first formed Triocracy, with its distinctive lineup of trombone and two reeds, in 1998. The current edition, featuring trombonist Sanford along with Andy Laster (alto and baritone sax and clarinet) and Chris Bacas (tenor and soprano sax and clarinet), continues to explore and expand upon the “chamber jazz” concept that has been the driving inspiration behind the project since the beginning.

That’s not a radical concept anymore, of course, so in a sense a group like Triocracy is freer than some of its Third Stream-era predecessors were; they don’t have to prove their legitimacy to anyone on either the “classical” or the “jazz” side of the aisle. That might partly explain their utter lack of self-consciousness as they interweave, break free, and then meld back together, improvising both individually and collectively, segueing between “composed” and “improvised” passages with such effortlessness that the distinction virtually dissolves. Freedom from expectations is also evident in the facility with which Sanford and his bandmates cross boundaries between genres, generations, and even epochs. They bring appropriate (yet low-key and unforced) reverence to Handel’s “Sarabande”; they break into unfettered exuberance on spontaneously improvised pieces (“Quick Change,” “Time Parameters”); they cover Billy Joel’s “And So It Goes” and Stevie Wonder’s “You and I,” enriching them with resonant harmonic blends and an almost prayer-like serenity. 

On originals like “Rip Tide,” “Bagheera’s Dance,” “Manic,” and the title track, playfulness and seriousness of purpose meld flawlessly. “Manic,” especially, lives up to its title, as a deceptively tranquil opening section darkens into roiling tumult spiked by Bacas’ tenor solo, only to achieve hard-won resolution in the end.

Preview or download Pyramid Scheme on Amazon!

David Whiteis

David Whiteis is a critic, journalist, and author based in Chicago. He is the recipient of the Blues Foundation’s 2001 Keeping the Blues Alive Award for Achievement in Journalism. His books include Southern Soul-Blues (U. of Illinois Press, 2013) and Chicago Blues: Portraits and Stories (U. Of Illinois Press, 2006). He is currently at work completing a book on contemporary Chicago blues and a co-written autobiography of the late soul singer Denise LaSalle.