If lucid dreaming is that intriguing momentary state in which the dreamer is aware that he or she is dreaming, musical improvisation is also totally of the moment.
And there is plenty of mercurial spontaneous interplay in the new album from Scots drummer Tom Bancroft’s Trio Red, suitably titled Lucid Dreamers.
The album, on Bancroft’s Interrupto label, comes just over three years after the debut recording from the trio, which also features London pianist Tom Cawley and Norwegian bassist Per Zanussi. As Brian Morton points out in his sleeve notes, the great Bill Evans liked his trio members to sign on for at least three years – that being what he regarded as the minimum period required to develop the necessary rapport. Three years on, how has Trio Red’s playing relationship developed?
“The first record,” responds Bancroft, “was the sound of people meeting [it was called First Hello to Last Goodbye], and there was a beautiful rapport from the very beginning, quite an unusual chemistry. I think improvising is a really magical thing. Some of it is about the choices people make, and when you’re improvising with people whose choices you like, it’s a truly wonderful experience.”
Two of the album’s compositions are Bancroft’s own, including Saturday Afternoon with Sophie, which struts its stuff like a bumptious nursery rhyme. Elsewhere is the headlong rush of Thomas Chapin’s Lift Off and a rollicking take on Charles Mingus’s Jump Monk, while Mr McFat Puts on His Socks kicks off with the kind of eccentrically ambulatory melody that might have come from Erik Satie. Yet Mr McFat, Bancroft explains, “was completely improvised. Tom Cawley has a wonderful melodic brain and sometimes he improvises things that sound as if someone’s spent ages composing them.
“I believe that somehow you find compositions, or even that they are given to you, and you have a duty of care towards them.”
How he was “given” the album’s title track is an intriguing tale. He composed it two decades ago when in Tbilisi, Georgia, with guitarist Kevin MacKenzie’s band Swirler. The capital still bore the bulletholes of the recent civil war and the drummer was moved to compose Lucid Dream, with its three sections – Song, War and Re-Birth. He had planned to play it with the Georgian National Big Band in a televised concert to be attended by the country’s president. However, Bancroft recalls wryly, the Georgian band declined to play the tune and the concert proved fraught, to say the least, with the Scots playing their set to a virtually empty hall.
He resuscitated the tune for his touring Kidsamonium show, then decided to re-format it for piano trio, and is delighted with how Cawley and Zanussi have treated it.
Mention of Kidsamonium brings us to one of Bancroft’s many other activities, the eagerly received ABC Creative Music online course developed by him and his twin brother, saxophonist Phil, to encourage musical creativity in schoolchildren. So far, he reports, they have more than 7,000 teachers in some 700 schools using it, and he finds it “a really nice parallel process to playing and developing as an improvising musician, because a lot of it involves thinking about exactly what musical creativity is.”
He’ll be touring with Trio Red next month, keeping busy jamming with guitarist Graeme Stephen and saxophonist Martin Kershaw, as well as exploring traditional New Orleans drumming with reedsman John Burgess’s Classic Jazz Quintet.
August’s Edinburgh International Festival sees him resuming his place in the 80-piece Grit Orchestra, which created a sensation at last year’s Celtic Connections with its arrangement of the late Martyn Bennett’s Grit album. “I’m really busy and feeling very positive at the moment,” says Bancroft. “It’s all really about musical creativity in its different forms and, in a way, it all links together.”
• Lucid Dreamers is out now. Trio Red’s tour starts at the Blue Lamp, Aberdeen, 12 May, www.interrupto.com