John Gruntfest, Megan Bierman, and John Niekrasz, Carlo Costa's Minerva All Ages Recommended Soundboard Image

When: Sat., May 18, 9 p.m. 2013

New York-based Italian drummer Carlo Costa—who recently came to town with the quartet led by bassist Shayna Dulberger—has a trio of his own called Minerva, where he balances composition and improvisation in exquisite tension while maintaining a beautiful restraint. Lots of jazz-related groups make a point of blurring the same line, perhaps hoping it will speak to the level of intuition and rapport within the group, but for Minerva it feels like a secondary concern—the group seems most interested in creating pieces that flow logically and with a discernible shape, no matter the method. On the 2011 album Saturnismo (Between the Lines) Costa, bassist Pascal Niggenkemper, and pianist JP Schlemgelmilch write material that assigns improvisation a support role in navigating composed material: in Costa’s “Noctural Patterns,” for instance, planned silences and stretches of improvisation separate terse composed gestures. “Dream Machine,” on the other hand, is fully improvised, but even then the band focuses on structure: single-note piano flurries (some damped inside the keyboard) and hypnotic arco bass lines seem to coalesce with inexorable logic around Costa’s delicate snare-drum patter. Minerva has the instrumentation of a classic jazz piano trio, but it often feels like a modern chamber ensemble, with Costa using his kit to produce tone colors and abstract melodic lines—though Niggenkemper’s brisk “Let’s Go, I Don’t Know” bears traces of Thelonious Monk and Herbie Nichols, and Schlemgelmilch’s churning “Battle Cry” has the melodic splendor of the Bad Plus. —Peter Margasak A trio of John Gruntfest, Megan Bierman, and John Niekrasz opens.

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