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Sound Underground: The Power of Three (Tiny Music)

A review of the latest album from the New York City-based trio

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The Power of Three by Sound Underground
The cover of The Power of Three by Sound Underground

Audacious by nature? You could easily make that case for Sound Underground, given its lean and unlikely instrumentation—alto sax, trumpet, and guitar—and its stirring yet unamplified synthesis of jazz, chamber, and world beat influences. Still, what ultimately distinguishes this New York City-based trio has less to do with its curious tonal palette and expansive stylistic reach than with the uncommon rapport and chemistry displayed throughout this recording, the group’s third release.

It helps, of course, that saxophonist David Leon, trumpeter Alec Aldred, and guitarist Jonah Udall have collaborated for the past six years, honing a knack for anticipating each other’s moves in challenging, often improv-charged settings. It also helps that each player doubles as a composer who’s keenly aware of the group’s strengths, not least of those being a flair for juxtaposing simple motifs and woven contrapuntal lines with soulful interludes and dissonant, full-throttle outbursts. Leon wrote five of the album’s dozen tracks, including the nearly 11-minute “Slow to Anger, Rich in Kindness,” an unfurling centerpiece that ultimately warrants its extended length. His colleagues contribute compositions similarly checkered with appealing and sometimes startling contrasts. Prime examples: Udall’s multi-hued delight “False Alarm” and Aldred’s not entirely restful “Restful Rapture.”

If it’s hard to listen to some of the music that appears on The Power of Three without imagining how a larger ensemble might color, embellish, and propel it, no matter. Chances are, the results wouldn’t be any more intriguing or rewarding.

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Originally Published