2023 / Alessa Records
Review by Kathy Parsons
Meridian Steps is a fascinating album by PRIM, a jazz trio from Vienna, Austria. Founded by pianist/composer Felix Biller in 2018, the other two thirds of the Trio are Martin Melzer on bass and Christoph Karas on drums. Cellist Lukas Lauermann also makes an appearance on one track. One of the things I deeply appreciate about new music from many European artists is their willingness (and freedom) to mix genres to create something unique. It seems that most of the European jazz I have heard has been by artists who are classically-trained and bring varying amounts of that training to their original music. The American music scene has become so compartmentalized that originality and creativity often get lost in the shuffle. PRIM's music includes elements of modern jazz, funk, soul, western classical music and more. Quoting Biller: "Our music is a bit like ordering a scoop of everything at the ice cream parlour and then mixing it wildly." I like that!
Explaining the inspiration for the album: "People on the same Meridian share a time zone; one could say they are in unison. Reflecting on the individual paths they’ve taken through life and finding themselves brought together by their collective love of music, Vienna based trio PRIM dedicate their album to the feeling of unison they share." Six of the seven tracks on the album give composer credit to all three musicians, and the seventh one was composed by Biller with arranging credits to all three - a united effort to be sure!
Meridian Steps begins with "Clarity," a piece that alternates between lively and upbeat to slower and more reflective, and includes a spoken-word passage - definitely an eclectic opener! "Trails" starts out with a very dark organ and bass duet that is almost spooky. It gradually picks up energy and gives the second section/movement more of a funk/rock groove. Organ, piano, drums and bass take us on a wild ride with this one! I'd love to know the story behind the title for "Frederic Being Oddly Numeric"! Alternating between big and powerful and quietly elegant and melodic, it's another musical thrill-ride that defies any genre classification other than fun, intense and experimental. Most of "Time Lapse Echoes" is the quietest and most subdued piece on the album despite a strong rhythm from the drums - almost like a heartbeat. All three musicians keep it easy and minimal until the last couple of minutes when they all dramatically pick up the tempo and intensity before returning to the original theme and fading out at the end. "Separation Reimagined" was originally composed by Felix Biller and features Lukas Lauermann on cello. An intriguing mix of free improvisation and classical structure, it's captivating from the first note to the last. "Madison '71" was released as a single and includes spoken word passages by Martin Melzer. This one is also really eclectic with influences that include blues, rock, soul, and jazz. The album closes with "Father Jai," which opens with a thoughtful, reflective piano solo. It maintains the feeling of an easy, bluesy slow dance for about half of the piece and then starts to build and then recede before reaching the fever pitch of some of the previous tracks. Biller and his piano really shine on this one - a great close to a terrific album!
Meridian Steps is available from Amazon, Apple/iTunes and several streaming sites including Spotify. I can't wait to hear more from this amazing trio!
October 29, 2023