In the promo video for There From Here, Ernesto Cervini says, “I always tell my students as drummers, the more people on stage, the more simple you have to play. When you’re in a trio, especially a trio where there’s no comping instrument, you have all the freedom in the world.” Don’t interpret that to mean this debut album from the Toronto-based TuneTown is free jazz; while the format does afford Cervini, saxophonist Kelly Jefferson, and acoustic bassist Artie Roth ample freedom, there’s structure aplenty, with the album conceived like a story best read from start to finish. In weaving together short improvs, originals by the trio members, and covers, There From Here plays like a prototypical TuneTown set.
The trio’s origin dates back almost a decade when Roth called the drummer for a gig with Jefferson at Toronto’s Rex Club, the three eventually formalizing the group as an entity in 2015 and recording There From Here at a Hamilton, Ontario studio last November. There’s an appealing looseness to the playing, not so loose it feels ragged but more in keeping with musicians familiar with one another and who play with ease when together. Cervini does, in fact, play a bit more expressively in this context than he does with his Turboprop sextet, or maybe it’s simply that with only three instruments involved his contributions are more conspicuous. All three acquit themselves admirably, each an arresting source of invention and responsive to the music as it’s happening.
The opening “A Sonic Handshake” announces, albeit briefly, that TuneTown’s rooted in swing, something confirmed by Cervini’s Monk dedication “The Monks of Oka” when the stop-start theme gives way to fluid interplay. A manifesto of sorts for the trio’s approach, each member solos, the message being one of democratization. As breezy is Jefferson’s “Kindling,” a fast-paced, five-minute presentation of the trio’s ebullient side. If “The Mayor” seems particularly clownish, it might be because the drummer presumably had former Toronto mayor Rob Ford in mind when composing it.
The first of three originals by Roth, “As She Wonders” draws for inspiration from Nick Drake and Sammy Fahn’s “Alice in Wonderland.” Jefferson dons soprano for this somewhat modal-flavoured setting, which also casts its gaze eastward in its blend of cymbal flourishes, hand percussion rustlings, and strummed bass figures. The bassist’s “Split Infinity” pursues a funkier route, the spacious feel of the music inciting Cervini to shower it with all manner of cymbal and hi-hat accents. As if designed as a counterbalance to the album’s uptempo tunes, Roth’s “A Transient Space” ends the release with nine minutes of ruminative, blues-tinged musings, the trio showing it can tackle an extended exploration when the mood strikes.
On the covers front, Jefferson’s big-throated tenor leads the way through a swooning, slow-motion take on “Sophisticated Lady,” straight rhythm suspended for a free-floating pulse consistent with the dream-like character of the rendition. Cole Porter’s “All of You” receives a smooth, singing treatment that speaks to the trio’s propensity for relaxed swing. Needless to say, the saxophone trio genre brings with it a daunting history, the shadow cast by Sonny Rollins’ unit in particular large, but TuneTown doesn’t seem in any way intimidated by it. Cervini, Jefferson, and Roth carve their own quite contented path here, their focus on enjoying themselves and extending that feeling to the listener.