Founded in 2007, the Belgian ensemble LABtrio consists of drummer Lander Gyselinck, pianist Bram De Looze, and Anneleen Boehme on the double bass. They describe their sound as unique, a musical laboratory where influences of jazz, improvisation, and electronic music are mixed.
Fluxus, their first album released in November of 2013, was described by one critic as “deeply rooted in the great tradition of the jazz piano trio and attuned to current musical styles, reflecting a young generation’s culture.” They see themselves as adventurous musicians constantly looking “incessantly to surprise themselves, each other and the audience.”
Now they are back pushing new boundaries with a new album: The Howls Are Not What They Seem. Here, the trio is expanding to include sax man Michael Attias and cellist Christopher Hoffman as they work on an 11-track set of original pieces developed with an eye to “Howl,” the well-known avant-garde poem by Allen Ginsberg, a section of which they quote in the album liner notes. It’s a section which notes, among the poem’s numerous musical references, “ghostly clothes of jazz in the goldhorn shadow of the band and blew the suffering of America’s naked mind for love into an eli eli lamma lamma sabacthani saxophone cry that shivered the cities down to the last radio.”
While their new music does not push their musical boundaries quite as far as the poet pushes his linguistic boundaries, they push plenty far enough to create a truly vibrant soundscape. And although they call one piece “Ornette, The Western Screech,” for the most part they never go down the road as far as Ornette Coleman – who I presume is the Ornette of the title – did down the free jazz road. If they “screech,” as in tracks like “M.A.S.T” and “Considering Marriage,” for example, it is mild in comparison. And with tunes like “Low Fat,” “Umeå,” and the extraterrestrial “Moonmouth,” they don’t screech at all.
LABtrio and friends manage to walk the edge between adventurous sonic exploration and noise like tightrope walkers on the high wire. If “Howl” is poetry that bites, The Howls Are Not What They Seem is music that bites some but doesn’t break the skin. These howls, indeed, are not what they seem.