[xrr rating=3.75/5]I’ve always hated the label “free jazz.” For one thing, delineating an entire subset of jazz music as “free” implies that other types of jazz lack the spirit of freedom. Listen to a Cannonball Adderley saxophone solo, a Max Roach drum fill or a Duke Ellington big band arrangement and tell me that all of these artists don’t invoke an adventurous feeling in every note. For another thing, we all know that nothing is truly free, and this most certainly applies to jazz. Even the most “outsider,” boundary pushing purveyors of the avant-garde rely upon traditional musical elements to ground the listener in some type of reality. Contrary to what some may think, the best experimental jazz musicians don’t simply engage in an orgy of sound, playing whatever they feel like at the time, but rather react to one another’s musical choices in complex and often quite surprising ways.

Roil, a piano trio from Sydney, Australia, has been playing a version of “free jazz” since 2007. With the release of their second album Frost Frost, I am happy to say that the band clearly falls into this adept category of avant-gardists, those who make intelligent musical decisions in the moment and give their listeners plenty to hang on to. Listening to Frost Frost is not a chore in the slightest. Rather, it’s a sonically fascinating, rhythmically propulsive journey in which you don’t always know where you’re going, but you know the destination will be worth it in the end.

Over the course of about 40 minutes, drummer James Waples, bassist Mike Majkowski and pianist Chris Abrahams produce sounds on their instruments that I didn’t even know existed. On “Super Victim,” Majowski’s bass sounds like a swarm of bees. On “Water Servant,” Abrahams seemingly plucks the strings of his piano to invoke the underwater setting. Waples plays so many exotic percussion instruments that I can’t keep track of them all, but I know I heard sleigh bells, a castanet and a wood block at one time or another. Whereas with some bands, this experimentation with the traditional jazz trio’s sonic capabilities might seem gimmicky, the members of Roil manage to pull it off because they commit to the concept so wholeheartedly.

It’s not just the weird, unexpected sounds that keep the listener hooked through the labyrinth that is Frost Frost. Each tune has an impeccable sense of structure, with the abstract melodies and complex rhythms interacting in unexpected yet musically viable ways. Take “Super Victim,” for example. This track begins with an unidentifiable squeaky percussion sound. Abrahams enters with a piano line so low that we can barely perceive what the notes are, but rather just hear a wash of demonic frequencies. As the song builds and we get used to the quirky register, a distinctive melody emerges. The line becomes faster and more agitated before abruptly ending, bringing the song to a close. It’s remarkable that this process takes place over the course of almost 10 minutes, yet never becomes tedious or predictable.

Frost Frost proves that avant-garde jazz isn’t just for theoreticians and music snobs. While it’s true that Roil will never be embraced by the masses, they definitely deserve to find a wider audience. If you approach this record with an open mind, a perceptive ear and an audacious spirit, you’ll find much to treasure with each listen.

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