Houston’s Drop Trio recently released its first full-length CD, Big Dipper. An acid-jazz constellation featuring the trio of Ian Varley on Rhodes piano and Hammond organ, Mike Blattel on drums, and Nino Batista on electric bass deliver twelve melodic jazz pieces that are fresh, atmospheric grooves. Their sound is welcome to any fan of Medeski, Martin & Wood and in many ways, they represent the more fluid aspect of that style. While these tunes aren't likely to rock the jazz world, they represent a commendable and enjoyable freshman effort.
Rarely does a player solo. Or perhaps they are all soloing in unison? "Melody-Melody," the longest track on the CD at 5:26, is comprised of sections of moods and funky interludes. I found myself returning to this engaging and complex track more than any other.
With Varley's keyboard providing the melody, his playing tends to take center stage on most songs. Batista's basswork fits right in the groove but it seems content to be tethered to the drum rhythms, missing the opportunity to deliver more complex textures to the band's overall sound.
Blattel's tight, yet understated, drum work is showcased on songs such as "Invisible Pants" and "Wet Dog." "Abbey Rhodes" teases the listener to a fun jam that should translate into intriguing potential for live show explorations. Hints of soul and funk are added generously throughout the mix of songs. Perhaps it's a nit, but the tempo of this collection does comes off a little too consistent. Even when the band sounds like it's funking out, the rhythm tempo doesn't break as often as it could. I'm no speed freak but this release could have benefited with the inclusion of some faster tempos in places just to make the more atmospheric sections that much more dramatic.
Big Dipper is a pleasing flow of classic-sounding, generally upbeat organ melodies. Yet, I have to wonder if the keyboardist could look to take on more of the bass lines to free up the bass guitar player to pursue other instruments. Having a second melody to compliment Varley's might enrich this band's sound.
The band cites a wide range of influences that cover funk, jambands and even '70s prog-rock. I could have sworn I heard a Yes influence on "Lefty’s Alone." Aggregating these types of disparate styles successfully is a tricky thing for any band. Drop Trio finds ways to introduce musical phrases that add diversity to its compositions yet still stay true to its acid-jazz roots. With incoming bassist Marc Reczek joining in on recent live shows, Drop Trio is poised to make its mark in the future of jazz.