Contra la Indecision is the first recording by Bobo Stenson's trio in six years. On 2012's Indicum, drummer Jon Flt was a new addition, while the musical partnership between the pianist and bassist/composer Anders Jormin had existed for nearly three decades. It was nonetheless convincing in its wonderful selection of tunes by Bill Evans ("Your Song," dedicated to the memory of former trio member Paul Motian), George Russell, Carl Nielsen, sacred music, free improv, and hymns. That diverse M.O. continues here: The two albums are mirror images with a notable caveat: The trio has matured greatly and they are more flexible, confident, and speculative. Stenson contributed a lone tune in the lovely yet abstract ballad "Alice," but his signature lyricism informs each segment of the band's exploration of tone and space and he is the undisputed leader.
The program consists of five Jormin compositions, a group improvisation, readings of Bela Bartok's "Wedding Song from Poniky" (based on a folk dance), Federico Mompou's "Cancion y Danza VI," Erik Satie's "Elegie," and the startling opener "Cancion Contra la Indecision" by Cuban folk singer and dissident Silvio Rodriguez. Its lithe lyricism and graceful interplay with a nursery rhyme-esque melody is an obvious attraction for a pianist like Stenson; he pursues its lines and appends them with colorful chord voicings as Falt's brushes caress the margins and Jormin underscores the changes. While the Bartok piece contains some of the shadowy modal exposition of the original, Stenson and Jormin open them up as gently bracing motifs to illustrate the dance at the tune's core. Jormin's "Three Shades of a House" is introduced by a two-minute bass solo that highlights the triad of musical statements within. When Stenson and Flt do enter, they pick up in the middle and move in concentric circles toward the outside, illustrating its impressionistic harmonics and gentle colorific shifts. Satie has always been an inspiration for Stenson. Here, he takes the root melody, staggers its harmonic center, and offers it to his sidemen in fragments. They pick it up and wind it out into a gently swinging series of call-and-response improvisations -- this track has more "groove" than any other moment on the set. Flt's playing, in particular -- even with brushes -- is remarkable. Mompou's "Canzion y Danza VI" has been the object of jazz interpretations before -- Kenny Drew, Jr. took it on for 1999's Winter Flower -- but Stenson's couldn't be more different: It's less deliberate, it's wrapped in ethereal mystery from the first bar, and each segment is filtered through the rhythm section's fluid accents and shimmers. Jormin's "Stilla" is based in blues, its three-chord statement winds around Stenson's labyrinthine fills and Flt's sliding shuffle. Jormin's closer, "Hemingway Impressions" -- complete with gorgeous arco playing -- is framed in Eastern modalism, adding an exotic twist to the finish. As a whole, Contra la Indecision is more colorful, more varied, and brighter than anything the pianist has released this century, making it a welcome return. ~ Thom Jurek