A Stormy Piano Trio out of Detroit

Michael Malis TrioLifted from the No of All Nothing (Polyfold, 2015)

Michael Malis is on tour in the midwest through Nov. 15: Champaign, Bloomington, Chicago, South Bend, and Kalamazoo. Check his web site for dates and venues, or look below.

malis-noFrom Detroit comes Michael Malis, bending the idea of the traditional piano trio. His music starts on the crystalline end of classically influenced jazz piano, but he’s willing to veer into adventurous territory. He’ll hammer on the lower registers for a stormy mood, or parse the music into minimalist-influenced diffraction patterns.

Lifted from the No of All Nothing is the trio’s debut album. They’ve been working together in various combinations and have served as the rhythm section for Detroit saxophonist Marcus Elliot, and the album is a chance for pianist Malis to show his chops as a bandleader, handling the role with creativity and confidence.

The most ear-grabbing piece is “Parentheses.” It digs and grooves, distilling its mathematics into an irresistible swing. The bass and drums take early solos that you’re almost not aware are happening — Ben Roston plays feather-light bowings on bass against the clockwork of the groove, and later, drummer Stephen Boegenhold snaps and pops against the irregularly matched patterns played out by Roston and Malis. The whole thing ends with a spritely piano solo over Malis’ jamming left hand.

“Power Numbers,” after an ornate classical opening, plows into a wonderful run-on of a theme, a ribbon of melody that Malis just keeps unreeling and unreeling. And it’s got that jazz crispness as well — Boegehold’s light-tap cymbals and busy snare holding the form (but not the strict beats) of the rhythm, and Roston working in pulses to deepen the sound.

Smaller pieces exhibit more of the band’s experimental side. “Converge” is a heavy stomping of piano bass notes, while “Old and New” gives us 99 seconds of strident freaking-out. “The Moment” is a sprinkling of prepared piano that blossoms into a stormy mood, encouraged by grand arco bass and, eventually, sweeping drums.

The nine-minute “Sympathet” ends the album with an avant-garde excursion that eventually returns to a crisp piano-trio sound led by a composition of impressive skipping-stone counterpoint.

Michael Malis Trio is spending this week on a tour in Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan. Here’s the itinerary, copied from Malis’ web site:

11/11: Institute 4 Creativity (Champaign, IL)

11/12: The Venue for Fine Arts and Gifts (Bloomington, IN)

11/13: Transistor (Chicago, IL)

11/14: Merriman’s Playhouse (South Bend, IN)

11/15: Kalamazoo Piano Company (Kalamazoo, MI)

… And you can listen to all of Lifted from the No of All Nothing on Bandcamp.