Michiel Braam's Wurli Trio


Another "mysterious object" inside my mailbox: this time, it's an album (curiously) titled Non-Functionals! (with added emphasis, courtesy of an exclamation point) by a group (totally unknown to me) going under the name Wurli Trio. I immediately decide that - as per the group's picture appearing on the CD cover - all members of the trio are in the forty-something age bracket; I wonder why all featured tracks are titled Non-Functional, with a number progression going from 1 to 9; while I see that the Wurli Trio gets its name from its featuring a Wurlitzer electric piano, the 200A model; I look for a press release, but I find there is none.

There's still the Web, of course. But it's precisely Michiel Braam's website - where I hope to find all relevant news about his (long) career - that reveals itself as a textbook case of the way(s) things can go horribly wrong when it comes to website-browser interaction. But while this time the intentions behind the work are bound to remain inscrutable to me, this is not the case when it comes to the actual result: the music. Only thing I have to do is listen.

Loosely speaking, one could define the music performed by the Wurli Trio on this album as "electric fusion" (of the non-tacky kind); but since such a wide label is virtually useless (except when it comes to clarifying that it's not punk, hip-hop, or heavy metal we are talking about), we can narrow the definition by saying that all tracks featured in Non-Functionals! - real compositions for an electric trio of piano, bass, and drums - are closely related to motifs that are typical of mid-70s Fusion. But things are not really so simple: true, once in a while one finds traces of "cosmic" Head Hunters/Herbie Hancock, typical Fusion moves such as The Blues and those "Arias from Brasil", also some rhythmic moves quite similar to those performed by George Duke on his Fender Rhodes in his Zappa-related 70s; but we also have some Monk-related melodies, and a "funky" rhythmic attitude that to me doesn't sound too far from the "acoustic funk" approach of "early-period" Keith Jarrett - on, say, Expectations. To me, it sounds like the "self-consciously arty" ironic intentions that appear "behind the music" in Uri Caine's "retro-electric" trio called Bedrock are absent here.

A few words about the chosen instrument. The Wurlitzer 200A, whose sound is less "round" and "rich" than that of the electric piano that's the common Fusion instrument: the Fender Rhodes, today sounds quite more "electronic", and so, less dated. (Those who remember the excellent solo performed by Steve Winwood on Empty Pages, featured in the world-famous album by Traffic titled John Barleycorn Must Die, already know the sound I'm talking about.) With echo and reverb being used sparingly, with an intelligent use of EQ, the Wurlirtzer played by Michiel Braam (who wrote all compositions) is a perfect match for the "dry" drums played by Dirk-Peter Kölsch and the electric basses played by Pieter Douma (who co-produced the album together with Mec v/d Beeten, the recording and mix engineer). To me, the album sounded a bit "boxy", but all I had to do to have more "air" was to turn the volume pot to the right just a bit.

Non-Functional 1 sports a be-bop theme where the melodic variations are performed by a drum solo sounding halfway between Han Bennink and Art Blakey, and - being quiet brief at 1' 51" - it's a dynamic introduction to the work. Non-Functional 2 is a blues with some unusual "accelerandi", an excellent trio interplay, and a pinch of Duke (George). "Space" mood ŕ la Head Hunters in Non-Functional 3, with a "funky" bass solo, nice melodic splices at 3' and 4' 27", and a "modern"-sounding proportion of piano and rhythm section. Non-Functional 4 has a "bluesy" slow theme sounding quite Monk-like, and an intelligently organized solo piano section. Quite rhythmic, Non-Functional 5 didn't sound to me as the most indispensable track on the album.

Non-Functional 6 has an angular theme with a nice piano-drums interplay, a fine solo, some arias "sad Brasil", and a curious effect of "stylus stuck in the grooves" at 3' 04". Non-Functional 7 has brushes, the melody line being performed by the bass, cymbals played arco, and a slow, fine, melodic development. A melody that to me sounded like a mix of  "Greek and Calabrese" elements appears on Non-Functional 8, then it's "happy Brasil", rimshot, a very rhythmic solo by the piano (which at the end reminded me a bit of Ray Manzarek!), theme. Non-Functional 9 is the fine album close (at 40', it's an album of perfect length), with its fine mid-tempo funky theme, and a good rhythm performance on the theme.

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2009

CloudsandClocks.net | June 28, 2009