The Pulse Trio
Voodoo Tiki Bar & Lounge
Jazz is always evolving. The Pulse Trio just wants to speed it up a little. With Sam Sfirri on the Fender Rhodes, Ben Wells on upright bass, and Stuart White on drums, their music is rooted in the jazz standards, but it branches out to accommodate their wide range of influences. Their double set at Voodoo's Winter Jazz Series demonstrated their technical ability and songs that come from collaboration, chemistry, and not setting any boundaries.
Voodoo is a jazz-friendly venue, complete with dim lights and dark corners. The walls are drenched in red and black, and there's a leopard-print couch, front and center. Here, the music is a soundtrack to the scene, quiet conversations and clinking glass.
The trio's set was a grab-bag of covers and originals from their upcoming album. There was completeness to it — an encompassing idea of their music and a style to match. Original, cover, or an improvisation on two chords, the Pulse Trio was fun to watch. Unpredictable at times, they trade glances and took songs in new directions (Like solving a math problem or finding the last edge piece to a jigsaw puzzle).
Wells' bass rumbled to a rapid-fire. rim-tapped beat. Sfirri's playing went from chiming high notes and arpeggiated chords to the Rhodes' low end grainy pulses. All versatile players, keen on improvisation, the three constantly mixed it up, challenging each other by-way-of challenging themselves.
A jazz rendition of a pop or rock song can be something exceptional, whether it's Brad Mehldau playing Radiohead or The Bad Plus Trio coming across Aphex Twin, It can create a new perspective to the original. The Pulse Trio played several. Highlights included the heady bass line in Björk's "Army of Me," remembering the '80s with Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World," and the encore/heartbreaker "Let it Die" by Fiest. They also paid homage to Bill Frisell and Herbie Hancock.
The trio's originals were just as memorable. One that Sfirri called "No Duh," induced escapist thoughts of a highway drive on a late, rainy summer afternoon. "No Duh" felt like the down-tempo electronic music of Boards of Canada, or the lesser-known Ulrich Schnauss, deconstructed.
Their second set began with "Everything in Its Right Place," from Radiohead's mostly electronic, jazz-ready Kid A. The last hour featured a few standards and more original compositions expanding upon the three's penchant for minimalism, experimentation, and the spaces in between.
The show suited the wet winter night, with an atmosphere and music providing optimistic thoughts for the future of music in Charleston.