Those who know bassist Bryan White know he’s a dedicated runner and coffee drinker. So it’s fitting that Eleven Dialogues, the newest release from jazz trio Up Jumped Three, leads with the track “Espresso (Evening).” It opens with a moody run of strings. The double bass is a low grumble and yet its deep timbre is more purr than growl, its lithe skip and shuffle a complex poetry.
That rhythmic voice also serves as a platform for Tim Winter’s guitar and Frank Southecorvo’s saxophone. And while the instrumental compositions of those three seasoned players are an intricate dance of textures and perspectives, there’s also a smoothness of vibe — an underlying warmth and polish that allows the listener to relax into the groove before returning to the headier melodic conversation. That conversation is the centerpiece, though — hence the 11-track album’s name.
Jazz is having a moment in Asheville, but free jazz can be among the more challenging iterations of the genre. It’s not mere background music. But Up Jumped Three rounds the sharper edges and tempers exploration with sonic ease. On “Zlateh’s Dream,” the guitar takes flights of fancy and the entire track burbles with a kind of Friday night anticipation. It glows and cavorts. The bass is a stylized amble; the saxophone and guitar meet and part and meet again, playing in friendly tandem.
“Not Forgotten (For Charlie Haden)” is a diaphanous dream. The guitar sweeps and dips, its lilt hinting at salt breezes and aquamarine waves. The saxophone is a breathless rasp in one moment and then a supple keen in the next. Not quite a mimic of the human voice as a clarinet or violin might be, Southecorvo’s instrument still draws melodic inspiration from birdsong and water. White’s bass solo in that song, a muscular exertion, expands into white space. The musician’s own respiration is heard like a counter-rhythm for just a moment — another texture in the recording.
“Baudrillard,” fleet and adrenaline-charged, feels utterly contemporary until the saxophone and guitar part ways. Then, like two dance partners taking simultaneous solos, they explore their various tones. The saxophone is sonorous and bright, the guitar resonate and vintage-tinged.
Each song is an audible dance, an endless variety of duets and triplets and solos. Sometimes the instruments augment each other’s parts, sometimes they flit and jab simultaneously into the spotlight. But there’s a balance that’s always maintained and, for all the flourish and high-wire drama, this is an ensemble free of showboating tendencies. Every run and trill feels as necessary as the weighted thumps and the stabilizing rhythm parts.
There’s a lush, unhurried mood to “In the Early Morning,” one of three live recordings on Eleven Dialogues. The conversation drifts like smoke across a boozy evening or — more likely, considering the song title — mist rising from a pond at day break. The saxophone sighs, its upper register wistful as the guitar provides soft ballast.
The album ends, aptly, with “The Setting Sun.” The thoughtful composition lives in the space between dusky melancholy and late-night enchantment. While the conversations between the instruments are active and cerebral, moods wash through the music so that it’s felt emotionally as well as intellectually. And perhaps that’s the greatest achievement of Up Jumped Three’s fantastic collection. But the dialogue theme also offers an open invitation to the listener to engage with the music; to enter into each song and add to the story as it unfolds.
Up Jumped Three performs at the Western North Carolina Orchid Society’s Annual Show at the North Carolina Arboretum on Thursday, April 14, at 6 p.m.; at the Sunday jazz series at St. Matthias Episcopal Church on Sunday, April 17, at 2 p.m.; and at Nobel Cider on Friday, May 6, at 6:30 p.m., among other dates. Find upcoming shows and more info on Reverb Nation and Facebook.