No Base Trio (NBT) release NBT II

No Base Trio is the union of alto saxophonist Jonathan Suazo, guitarist Gabriel Vicéns, and drummer Leonardo Osuna, formed in 2010 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. NBT focuses on creating music without barriers and consistently pushing boundaries of sound and improvisation. The trio started out playing straight-ahead jazz standards at concerts across the island, occasionally playing an improvised piece to break up the set. After realizing the unique energy that would arise when the trio would improvise together, they agreed to continue as an entirely improvised ensemble.

In 2020, NBT released their critically acclaimed eponymous debut album under the radical label Setola di Maiale. The album was praised by critics for its ambience and exploration and described by Avant Music News as “Attentively crafted improvised music informed by an eclectic set of influences.” Most recently, after more than a year without performing due to COVID-19, NBT went to the studio to record their second album, NBT II, which is the album under review here. This collective plays a role in music’s continuous evolution, as the musicians find new ways of expression with wisdom, creativity, and passion.

Cover painting: Loor II by Emanuel Torres-Pérez
Graphic Design by Giustappunto

It is a percussive opening to ST [1] before the guitar of Gabriel Vicéns comes in, also in percussive style. It is only when the sax of Jonathan Suazo is added to the mix that the sound softens and rounds out. The sax plays over the repeated phrasing of drums and guitar but there is no central melodic line, more an improvised exploration based on what the rhythms suggest. As the track progresses the soundscape changes, becoming elongated and spacious. The addition of the fluttering flute adds a brightness to the track before the drums finish in dominant form.

ST [2] is very much in the free jazz arena, which is not an area I feel qualified to comment on. There is a significant amount of sound over which the sax is played in a sporadic fashion that, for me, leaves the number feeling disconnected. ST [3] takes us back to a percussion led opening with some good sax tones and supporting notes from the guitarist. There are some interesting sounds and playing techniques on this track. The drumming drives this number forward and the sax is strong with great riffs that maintain the listeners interest – the same can also be said of the guitar sound that comes in loud and clear around the midway point of the track.

On first hearing the opening notes of ST [4] I thought of a bell sounding and being allowed to continue to sound until it rang out and the next peel took its place. A short repeating drum pattern is added over which layers of sound fade in and grow before the next pattern is struck. There is a meditative quality to ST [4], which I found captivating if a little overlong. The sound of the flute was a welcome addition to what was being performed and gave something else to focus on.

ST [5] had that probing, exploratory feel to it with both guitar and sax playing stabs of sound like two boxers prowling around the ring throwing the odd punch while sizing each other up. As the track progressed the sound loosened up and the two musicians, with the support of the drummer, came together and created a more cohesive, but not flowing sound. The guitar opening to ST [6] is terrific with the light drum pattern playing alongside. There is a real contemporary jazz feel to this track that I rather enjoyed. The volume, energy, and urgency of the number increases the further into the track we get and there is some wonderful drum work from Leonardo Osuna that leads us to the close of the piece.

ST [7] is the longest of the seven tracks on this album coming in at a little under thirty minutes. This number builds slowly with sparse notation, like someone emerging in trepidation from some future dystopian landscape. It is nine minutes in that the soundscape begins to develop and fill out, albeit in a minimalist fashion. This continues for much of the track and it only when the powerful drumming of Leonardo Osuna is introduced that we get any sense of energy, of life.

The following has been said of NBT II:

They manage to keep listeners captivated all throughout the ambitious 100 minutes of the release.

Paul Medrano, Best of Jazz

Featuring complex rhythms, free improvisation, and playful melodies full of energy and surprises, NBT’s sound is a kaleidoscopic one.

C.F. Smith, Twistedsoul

I am not sure that I can wholeheartedly agree with either statement. A one hour forty minutes running time gives the group a lot of space to fill and whilst I agree that there are playful melodies, moments of energy and complex rhythms they are being asked too much of. There are extended moments of captivating sounds, interesting textures and tonal colour but, for me, it sometimes took too long for those aspects of the tracks to emerge. I will revisit this album at a later date, and I will listen to its predecessor No Base Trio (2020), but not in one sitting.

NBT II is available from Bandcamp from 14 October, 2022.

Musicians: Gabriel Vicéns – electric guitar; Jonathan Suazo – alto sax, tenor saxophone, flute, and EWI; Leonardo Osuna – drums.

Tracklist: 1. ST [1]. 2. ST [2]. 3. ST [3] … ST [7]

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