In the bio for Eastern Iowa jazz trio Thrio, they describe themselves as “chord-less” — a somewhat clumsy way to explain that the band, as a trio of sax, bass and drums, doesn’t incorporate any instruments that play chords (keyboards or guitars for example).
This isn’t a new idea for jazz — in fact, Sonny Rollins is credited with pioneering this configuration in 1957, which in turn influenced sax-led trios for decades to follow. In an interview with The New York Times in 2007, Rollins said that the lack of piano allowed him freedom to play outside of a song structure typically dictated by it.
With Thrio’s new EP, We Like to Have Fun, we get a close look at a band in this configuration. All three members have played in other area jazz bands: Goose Town, Blake Shaw Quintet and The Commons Collective. With Thrio, Chris Jensen (drums), Nolan Schroeder (tenor sax) and Blake Shaw (double bass/vocals) have a departure from what they’ve done before.
As you might expect, the songs on the EP are fairly minimal, with all of the melodic lifting being done by the tenor sax and double bass — which isn’t to say there isn’t a lot going on here. Schroeder and Shaw weave back and forth, exchanging leads and coming back together, accomplishing what they set out to do, which is create songs where a piano wouldn’t be missed. The band works as a team in service of the songs here — not a lot of stepping out with extended improvisational solos.
To that end all of these songs are strictly sticking to melody and theme with a really nice rhythm and groove leaning towards blues. The songs are not overly long, either, which helps bring them to focus for the listener. It reminds me a lot of the instrumentation in the band Morphine, which was also bass, sax and drums. This is particularly evident in the album closer “Alone To(freakin’)gether,” when the sax and bass come together in harmony.
Compositional austerity — the idea that “less is more” — is a compelling one, often revisited in the arts. For We Like to Have Fun, stripping jazz back to the basics makes for a fresh, interesting release in a genre often defined by the complex and elaborate.
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 248.