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Trio HLK

by Howard Lawes

Trio HLK.jpg

Lovers of word games will be fascinated by the title of this latest album by Trio HLK although its use would not be permissible in a game of Scrabble. 'Anthropology', quite apart from being the scientific study of homo sapiens, is a 1945 bebop recording from Charlie Parker based on the chord patterns of George Gershwin's I Got Rhythm. 'Anthropometry' is the study of human dimensions as illustrated by Leonardo da Vinci's drawing of Vitruvian Man within a square and a circle.  Talking to the band via Zoom they confirmed that It is no coincidence that the diagram on the album cover consists of superimposed polygonal shapes ranging from triangle to decahedron. The mischievous nature of the band is hinted at by the mis-spelling of metrics, a word related to pulse but perhaps more commonly used with poetry than music.


Anthropometricks is only the second album from Trio HLK, a band made up of Rich Harrold on piano and synthesizer, Ant Law on 8-string guitar and Rich Kass on drums, crotales and auxiliary percussion.  Guesting on the album are Evelyn Glennie on vibraphone, marimba and auxiliary percussion, Natalie Clein on cello and Varijashree Venugopal with vocals.  All compositions are by Rich Harrold with drum parts by Rich Kass.  Among the acknowledgements of the support from friends and family on the album cover is a tribute from Rich Kass: "Thanks to Pete Zeldman for inspiring me and by shattering the limits of rhythmic possibility and making incredible, unique music while doing so ... may you rest in peace".  Pete Zeldman was a leading pioneer of multiple pedal orchestrations having the remarkable ability to play several different pulses simultaneously as shown here.


Trio HLK's debut album, Standard Time, was released in 2018 with guest artists Evelyn Glennie again and Steve Lehman on alto saxophone.  It was supported with funding from the PRS Open Fund for Music Creators; their website entry described the band as working "within a musical language that might be deemed rhythmically and harmonically deviant" and fusing contemporary classical music with jazz.  Rich Harrold, who is currently completing a PhD, studied contemporary classical music at the Royal Academy of Music, composition at Yale School of Music and jazz at Leeds College of Music brings all his accumulated knowledge and experience to the latest album and proudly asserts "With Standard Time we were finding our voice; with Anthropometricks we're raising the bar". Ant Law's education included comparatively little related to music although he did spend one semester at Berklee College of Music while studying Physics at the University of Edinburgh.  Having got the jazz bug he tuned his guitar using Perfect 4ths and then wrote a book about it, he has featured in nine other albums either as leader or sideman.  Ant teaches at several colleges and conservatoires. Rich Kass started drumming as a teenager and studied music at Edinburgh Napier University.  As well as composing music for film he is the visiting drum kit professor at Edinburgh University and Edinburgh College. His passion for percussion extends to re-interpreting music from around the world such as the ancient, Indian vocal rhythmic art form called Konnakol.


It is a huge endorsement of Trio HLK's music for Dame Evelyn Glennie to guest on this second album as well as the first.  Glennie, a fellow Scot to Harrold and Kass is the world's premier, solo percussionist with over 40 albums to her credit and throughout her career has worked with diverse artists from the worlds of pop, jazz, folk, classical and contemporary music. Surely no one can forget her contribution to the London 2012 Olympic where she led 1000 drummers in the iconic opening ceremony.  The other guests on the album are singer Varijashree Venugopal and cellist Natalie Clein. Varijashree Venugopal began to study Indian Carnatic music at the age of 4 and is a member of the cross-genre quartet Chakrafonics.  Natalie Klein is a cellist playing predominantly classical music and was BBC Young Musician of the Year in 1994. She was awarded an OBE in 2021 for services to music.

Here is a video introducing the album:

The eight tracks on Anthropometricks are all based on jazz classics that most jazz fans would recognise in their original form.  The band state "each work is grown from fragments of a well known jazz standard; the resultant pieces are new but the originals can be glimpsed within ''. Usually the titles give a clue to which standard is being re-composed but even when notes from the original are being played it is still quite difficult to identify them when rhythm and tempo are drastically altered. The tracks are :

  1. Anthropometricks - with  Varijashree Venugopal

  2. fIVE - with Natalie Clein

  3. Concertinas (for Bill) - with Natalie Clein and Evelyn Glennie

  4. Prelude - with Evelyn Glennie

  5. Flanagan's Lament  - with Evelyn Glennie

  6. Apostrophe (part 1)  - with Evelyn Glennie

  7. Apostrophe (part 2) - with Evelyn Glennie

  8. Stellar - with Evelyn Glennie


Listen to Concertinas (for Bill):

Most music has a pulse, giving both a hook for the listener and facilitating its playing by musicians. Certain pulses are accented or strong, while others are weak, giving a pattern that is indicated on sheet music with a time signature such as 3/4.  In 3/4 time the pulse pattern is strong, weak, weak, strong, weak, weak, etc providing a rhythm or feel that people can dance the waltz to.  In 4/4 time the strongest accent is on the first pulse of four but thereafter the pattern is weak, strong, weak, strong, etc.


The way pulse patterns are organised in a piece of music is called the meter which is a concept borrowed from poetry where it defines the number of syllables in a line and how the words are spoken.  As we know elements of jazz music originate from the traditional music of Africa and the music can be remarkably complex.  This music is very often polyrhythmic, featuring different, superimposed rhythms and results in syncopation whereby the strong pulse, weak pulse sequence is disrupted.   Gunther Schuller in his book "Early Jazz" (1968) discusses how African Americans adapted the music of Africa for consumption in the USA or Europe by simplifying it to monorhythmic and monometric structures but added syncopation to leave a vestige of their traditions.


While Trio HLK are not playing African music they do employ the techniques of polyrhythm and polymetrics as explained by Rich Harrold: "A core part of our music is about playing games with the listener: setting up patterns and finding exciting ways of disrupting them".  Rather more esoterically: "This music is about perception, specifically ambiguities of perception.  The compositional principle that underpins the music is to pinpoint and inhabit liminal zones: to find and ride the biting point between opposing ways of hearing the same material.  Rhythms strive for stability on shifting terrain. Patterns are almost established but thwarted.  Superimposed harmonic structures attempt to find unity." 


On the album most of the music is composed although there is some improvisation.  The band admit that the music is challenging to play which is evident from YouTube videos but having done all the hard work they are of the opinion that audiences will find much to enjoy.  As a listener the initial impression is one of admiration for the virtuosity of all the musicians involved and then perhaps questioning what sort of music is it? Gramophone Magazine sums it up as "The ensemble's willingness to travel far and wide (and also way beyond traditional concepts of the jazz trio) marks them out as true innovators". 


In another video, here, Rich Kass describes how the sheet music for the track fIVe doesn't have time signatures because the meter is constantly changing.  .

This is not music that lends itself to foot-tapping or humming along at the first listen and so the audience also needs to keep on its toes so as not to miss the next twist or turn.  The guest musicians really add an extra dimension to the music, without them some might dismiss Trio HLK's complex, avant-garde chamber music as overly academic but actually there is much for most to enjoy, particularly after the second or third time of listening.

The album Anthropometricks with samples of the tracks is available here.

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