Ugly Beauties is the first CD for the threesome of Lerner (piano), Brubeck (cello) and Fraser (drums). Difficult to place this music in a context without resorting to typical definitions. There is a lot of improvisation mixed with carefully trimmed material; there aren’t surpluses of extended techniques, although the musicians do explore more peripheral regions of the instruments when the time is right. Definitely it’s not something linked to reductionism, for the interplay mostly generates rather dense textural interconnections and clear phrases that, even when a rarefaction of events prevails, glow as luminous stars in a summer sky. Ultimately, what’s this record like?
The answer is “nothing that I can call to mind at this instant”. The trio is nimble and precise in the exposition, the playing revealing a degree of contrapuntal poetry — atonal romanticism, if you will — quite frequently, letting us catch glimpses of untainted ability that never figures as the motivation for germ-free exercises. The improvisations may appear nonchalant in their manifestation but consequential as far as technical grounding and plausibility of creative choices are concerned. A concession is made to a couple of stylish digressions, and there’s a swinging interlude in Harold Lloyd that sincerely was better left out. Fortunately, these are rare occurrences: for the large part, the quality of the instrumental interaction is so rewarding — just check the gorgeous Ding An Sich — that one’s immediately pushed to listen to it again, in order to comprehend the actual reasons behind a work that doesn’t strike that hard, yet digs deep enough to warrant a laudatory mention. A gracious treat to the ears, full of great tones and distinctive acoustic perspectives, in spite of the impermanence of a proper characterization in our memory.