By: Ron Schepper, Textura
Wonderment is the debut trio album from violinist Zach Brock, double bassist Matt Ulery, and drummer Jon Deitemyer, but the performances are as locked-in as one would expect from musicians who’ve played together for almost fifteen years. Their casual monthly sessions in Chicago developed into local gigs plus a deepening musical connection that was first documented in 2014 when the trio recorded a track for Ulery’s In the Ivory release. Whereas that set was issued on Dave Douglas’s Greenleaf, Wonderment is on the bassist’s own Woolgathering Records, the twelve tracks recorded on May 15th, 2018 at Transient Sound in Chicago.
Melodically, the heavy lifting’s largely done by Brock, his violin by default the instrument naturally tailored to shoulder that load. But otherwise this is absolutely a trio of equals in a way that renders a description such as violin trio misleading, however economically it communicates the idea. Indicative of the equality in play, each of the three contributed four compositions to the release, and all execute with a confidence and ease that reflects the many years they’ve been together. Synergy’s an overused term, but it definitely applies: attending to the interactions between the three and their responsiveness to one another makes for extremely rewarding listening.
The opening title cut springs into action with Ulery and Deitemyer stoking a Latin-tinged groove and Brock pulling the listener in with seductively drawn-out phrases. Clear compositional structures are in place, yet they’re deployed as guidelines the three use as a foundation. Even at this early juncture, the seeming effortlessness of the playing is evident, each player able to quickly adjust his attack to support the directional shifts arising during the performance.
Being the sole front-line player, much depends on Brock, but the violinist, a Grammy Award winner and recipient of a Downbeat ‘Rising Star’ nod, proves himself more than up to the challenge. The aggressive attack he brings to his own “Cry Face” and Ulery’s “Levelled” do much to separate them from the pack, while the exuberant swing in his playing elevates the recording. His playing shows none of the stiffness some violin players bring to a jazz context, and one comes away from Wonderment well-impressed by his versatility and refusal to coast. The bassist and Deitemyer are their agile, ever-adaptable selves, experienced hands comfortable tackling anything thrown their way. The trio repeatedly finds interesting ways to enliven the music, one example emerging two minutes into Brock’s “Yge Bieve” when the bassist’s walking line appears alongside the violinist’s own step-wise plucks and the drummer’s percussive accents.
Though jazz is the core of the trio’s playing (see Deitemyer’s “Above and Beyond,” for instance), blues, funk, rock, and even country find their way into the performances, and as serious as the musicians are, they’re not without a sense of humour. That said, don’t let an irreverent title like “Wokey Dokey” get in the way of hearing the tune for what it is, an expertly executed exercise in effervescent post-bop. The group’s sound is so natural and engaging, one wonders why more trios featuring violin don’t exist; certainly Brock does everything here pianists, saxophonists, and guitarists do in their own units. No matter: Wonderment is trio playing of an inordinately high order, the sound of three advanced musos joyfully bringing the material they so clearly love into being.