Tim Ray Agitated Cat Music

Tre Corda Press
Stacks Image 200
“Tre Corda brings together an awesome array of talent, performance wisdom and stylistic variations, from classical to pop and jazz. They are world ambassadors.” - Somerville Journal

“Tre Corda - what a marvelous recording. WOW! I thoroughly enjoy the beautiful writing and the great performance by all three of you. BRAVO!” - Rufus Reid, legendary jazz bassist and educator

“At first an unusual sight, Tre Corda's formation develops harmonies of high quality.” - SESC Magazine, Rio de Janiero, Brazil (badly translated, discussing an appearance by Tre Corda at that city's International Cello Encounter, August 2006)

“Tre Corda consists of pianist Tim Ray, cellist Eugene Friesen and trumpet/flugelhorn player Greg Hopkins. On their self-titled CD on Agitated Cat Music, the trio explores the freer aspects of the jazz tradition. These accomplished musicians infuse the disc with elements of classical and world-beat music to give the tunes a very open, spatial sound. Highlights include the “Shorter Suite,” a series of improvised variations on melodies by Wayne Shorter, and a wild version of Rogers and Hart's “Blue Moon,” as well as several distinctive originals. A fine example of music without borders.” -Alan Chase, The Wire (NH)

“(Tre Corda) combined virtuosity and intelligence in two sets of original compositions and arrangements...winning in their rhythmic vitality, play of ideas, unexpectedly fine blend and all-round engagement with the music... (playing) rhythms that left Stravinsky and minimalism gasping for breath... That's chamber music, partner.” -Andrew Pincus, Berkshire Eagle

Tim Ray's Latest Project
by Roanna Forman

Good players are constantly evolving – technically, stylistically and creatively. Tre Corda, the debut CD by Tim Ray’s trio of the same name, is fascinating proof positive of this adage. Dedicated to the free play of creative ideas without the stricture of genre, this instrumentation of piano, cello and horns is collectively true to Ray’s own observation that “I try to open myself up to anything and everything I can.” It’s original, and it’s exciting.

The musical aims of this trio are realized by the imagination and impeccable musicianship of Ray and his two co-members. Greg Hopkins, a trumpeter who doubles on fluegelhorn and cornet for this CD, has enjoyed a long career with big bands, major singers, musicals, symphony orchestras, and jazz festivals. A professor of Jazz Composition at Berklee College of Music since 1974, Hopkins is a published arranger and composer of considerable stature (witness the reaction to his “Inner Voyage” at Berklee - Performance Center with soloists John Abercrombie and Abe Laboriel, Sr.) The ensemble’s other member, cellist Eugene Friesen, is a long-time member of the Grammy-winning Paul Winter Consort and records for Winter’s label Living Music.

Ray describes his compositions in Tre Corda as tackling “the challenge…to write things that set up an improvisational environment. As players, to try and find places to improvise within the framework. The lines blur. People come up and ask, ‘Which is the [scored] music?’” He’s working with musicians who feel comfortable playing in that context – Friesen is known for his improvisational bent and gifts, and Hopkins’ compositions contribute to the musical synergy.

This music defies genre. Its players would be happy to hear that. Take “Shorter Suite,” by Ray, with “Variations on Wayne Shorter’s Nefertiti,” “Fall,” and “Pinocchio.” In “Nefertiti,” the sultry exoticism of the Miles Davis arrangement becomes a romp. Influenced by Stravinskian primitivism and irony, the Tre Corda variation opens with the trumpet stating the theme, carried along by an ostinato in Ray’s left hand. After the cello restates the theme, a piano flourish leads to wide-angled lines and an intertwined piano and cello pizzicato exchange. Other thematic echoes by a muted trumpet and cello give way to a somber piano solo. Although the cello briefly joins in the solemnity, the trumpet gallops back in with the theme. Ray finishes off with single notes at the top and bottom of the piano, like a fat lady in the circus taking a bow.

In Ray’s treatment, Wayne Shorter’s “Fall” morphs from the light hipness of Miles’ horn lines into a dirge-like cello melody with haunting piano pedal point accompaniment. Tony Williams' phrase endings in the Miles version become a light piano punctuation, leading into a duet by fluegelhorn and cello. The ensemble builds in improvised density and volume to a tsunami climax propelled by the keyboard. The denouement is gentle, as the piece falls lightly to a close.

“Pinocchio,” which Miles and his quartet swung hard, becomes a delicate piano theme statement which is echoed by the trumpet. This leads to improvised conversations between cello and horn separated by light piano accents. After restating the theme, the piano starts a primitive Stravinskian stomp alternating between cello and trumpet. Ray takes off ricocheting around the keyboard and pulling the music to a raucous ending, banging and clanging the upper register like bells gone wild. A choreographer would enjoy working with the piece.

Greg Hopkins’ compositions are equally important to defining Tre Corda’s sound. The irregular accents of “Cargasian,” easy-paced and urbane, closes with hints of “Giant Steps.” Next, all three players appear to be improvising interactively (with this music you never know), soloing over the form, often weaving their lines together. Ending as a round, the piece has a whimsy that is integral to this group’s sound.

The contemplative but hopeful “Olive’s Branch,” also by Hopkins, sounds like Noah opening the ark after the storm. It exploits the strengths of the horn but gives the other players plenty of room to stretch out. After a solo introduction, the horn states the theme, accompanied by a descending cello line, then expands resolutely, and diminishes to a holding pattern for a delicate piano solo. Repeating the strong expansive closing lines of the theme, the horn, with the same descending cello motif accompaniment, leads the players into a quiet close.

Tre Corda may be serious, but it doesn’t take itself seriously. “Humor is underappreciated in jazz, in music in general,” Ray has said, and this album puts the “play” back in “players.” From titles – witness “Sound Escapades, Part 1-The Kitchen Sink,” where the musicians converse with free form crashes, low notes, muted lines, bangs, cadenzas, and rumbles. To treatment – in a lugubrious, death-march-slow “Blue Moon” Friesen’s cello sings the melody over Ray’s ghostly Transylvanian reharms. The whole arrangement clamors to a manic pitch before dragging through the melody one more lumbering time. The slapstick B section in “Monk’s Nightmare” reminiscent of the composition’s namesake is laced with Monk keyboard mannerisms and doubly funny in contrast to a self-absorbed A section. In the satiric “The Colonel’s Final Journey,” Hopkins creates an absurdist feel just right for an anti-imperialist film set in 19th century British Colonial India.

“Blues & Rhythm” plays with a title, but not with the music. After the cello establishes a quasi-funk feel, the trumpet and piano develop the head over an 11-bar form with changing meter. Ray’s sinuous piano solo gives way to quick restatement of the head, and then Eugene Friesen establishes a Slavic groove underpinning a frenzied trumpet solo that eventually continues unaccompanied. As the trio takes the head out, playing intertwined lines, it’s hard to tell how much was scored, how much spontaneous.

In this unconventional album, the more straightforward “Church Rhythms” creates a beautiful balance to some of the offbeat pieces. Floating the piano and trumpet over Eugene Friesen’s anodyne cello-picking, it sets a meditative mood, like monks in contemplation.

With more than enough material for a second CD, the trio will continue to develop its creative direction. For Tre Corda and listeners alike, it’s uncharted ground.

A Very Funny Valentine - Berkshire Eagle
By Andrew L. Pincus
PITTSFIELD -- The combination of piano, cello and trumpet is to music approximately what a three-headed calf is to nature. Behold Tre Corda, the improvisatory jazz trio from Boston that MusicWorks presented in a Valentine's concert Saturday night at Hancock Shaker Village.

This strange beast -- pianist Tim Ray, cellist Eugene Friesen and trumpeter Greg Hopkins -- combined virtuosity and intelligence in two sets of original compositions and arrangements. Each of these three goateed gentlemen boasts a string of impressive jazz credits, which take in Gary Burton, Tony Bennett and Dave Brubeck. They also are classically trained and experienced. The versatility showed in performances that were, even for a jazz novice like me, winning in their rhythmic vitality, play of ideas, unexpectedly fine blend and all-round engagement with the music.

Ray founded the group in 2000 with the aim of fusing chamber music and jazz. Tre corda ("three strings") is the instruction to classical pianists to release the soft pedal and let all three strings vibrate freely.

Indeed, freedom marked the playing. But in music as in democracy, freedom begins in discipline. Tre Corda's looseness arises from a sense of three working as one in exploring new possibilities.

That ensemble, for example: It's seldom, if ever, that a jazz band dispenses with a rhythm section. From time to time, as in his own "Church Rhythms" (what church, one wonders), Friesen's cello plunked away in imitation of a bass fiddle. The group goes for its own sound for its own music, however -- and gets it.

Classical bonafides peek through, especially in Ray's compositions and arrangements, whose rhythmic drive owe something to Stravinsky.

Elsewhere, Bartok and a bit of Debussy lurk in the background.

But composers bring forth their fathers only to kill them. The evening's longest, most compelling and most original offering was "Once Around the Block," a new work by Ray with jagged rhythms, extremes of fast and slow, extended solos for cello and trumpet, and a surprising drop into pure lyricism. That's chamber music, partner.

Ray's arrangement of "Blue Moon," for cello and piano, was as "outrageous" as he promised. It started out like a dirge, went into overdrive with mad scrabblings in the cello, and sank back into the opening gloom, with the cello descending into the basement.

"We try to mine some of the angst," Ray modestly told the audience.

Also from the bureau of classical affairs was "Sneakers," the first movement of a trumpet-cello-piano sonata by trumpeter Hopkins. These sneakers ran about in rhythms that left both Stravinsky and minimalism gasping for breath.

For lovers, there were also “My Funny Valentine,” "Like a Lover," with a dreamy cello solo, and "Moment to Moment." Ray's own "Variations on Pinocchio," an arrangement of themes by saxophonist Wayne Shorter, speeded the gathering into a Shaker dinner.