The Belgian Jukwaa trio is not an ordinary piano-bass-drums trio. Jukwaa functioned as a more or less traditional piano trio only on its self-titled, self-produced debut album (2014). On its sophomore album, «Harbinger Of Imminent Ruin» (El Negocito, 2015), the core trio of pianist Thijs Troch, double bass player Nils Vermeulen and drummer Sigfried Burroughs was joined by sax player Otto Kokke and guitarist Jonas Vandenbossche. «Cushion», the third album, offers Jukwaa again as a quintet but a totally different one. Now Jukwaa adds another double bass player, Laurens Smet, known from local groups Ifa y Xango and Bambi Pang Pang, and another drummer, Elias Devoldere, known from the local group Kabas. The expanded Jukwaa was invited to a 4-day residency at Ghent’s music center De Bijloke where it recorded «Cushion».
The exceptional instrumentation led to an exploration and investigation of the instruments themselves, their roles and their timbral range. «Jukwaa embodies a central paradox of today’s modern music: the double bass is a bass and not a bass, the drums are drums and not drums, the piano is a piano and not a piano», writes Norwegian master double bass player Håkon Thelin in his liner notes. The six-part «Cushion» is structured like a suite and Thelin adds that it may, unconsciously, flirt with the concept of being «radically idiomatic» – the concept where the instrument/musician/improviser combination itself, in all perspectives from ergonomic to historical, becomes the «material» from which music is shaped.
But «Cushion» is by no mean an intellectual sonic exercise. Each of the six piece stand on its own, very distinct merits. Each piece pushes the sonic palette further into new, uncharted territories, still. All together sound coherent. The dreamy «Feodorovna» is the only one that still relates to the jazz piano trio legacy, but already hints at the multilayered, cyclical interplay of the trio, growing organically and developing almost autonomously. «Tatu» suggests the percussive possibilities of such an exceptional quintet and sound as a loose African choir of traditional percussion instruments as the balafon and kalimba blended with Western chamber string music, as presented by the bowed basses. The enigmatic and cinematic «Yakhont» links sparse, exotic sounds and minimalist phrases into an arresting, tensed texture. «Vekselberg» is a monotonous, almost industrial piece, with little attempt to offer meaningful development. «Hen» suggests a minimalist, almost still and silent soundscapes, where the sounds float slowly in space, touching and disappearing again and again. «Trellis» concludes this sonic adventure with another different soundscape, now focusing on how the piano, basses strings and drums skins can resonate and buzz together as tight unit.
Thijs Troch (p), Nils Vermeulen (b), Laurens Smet (b), Sigfried Burroughs (dr), Elias Devoldere (dr)