LEADER OF SIDEMEN: AB Trio the indie rockers of jazz

This happens in jazz more than any other genre of music: A collective consisting of amazingly impressive soloists winds up sounding like a bad lounge act – with amazingly impressive solos – and gets away with it because people don’t want to appear dumb for disliking such an allegedly higher form of art.

Occupational hazard. Jazz is not commonly one of the ways musicians get rich, if ever – so jazz musicians play with everybody they can. They are a nation of sidemen.

That said, Edmonton’s own AB Trio would like set itself apart from those ill-rehearsed jazz combos whose identities seem tied to the bandleader as the “So-and So Quartet,” or Quintet, Sextet, Ensemble, Project, Experiment or Syndicate, as the case may be. Where are jazz BANDS? We’ve got one right here. Drummer Thom Bennett says this the AB Trio is a much a real “band” as any in the indie rock scene, that they play house concerts in the manner of a touring folk group and that he and his partners – Keith Rempel on bass, Dan Davis on sax – value expression and emotion over amazingly impressive solos.

“We sound like a unit,” Bennett says. “We rehearse quite a bit and work all the time to set ourselves apart from groups that have fantastic players, but don’t have a group sound. I don’t want to hear just one person play a great solo – that’s just very boring to me – I want hear some empathy between the players, some emotion.”

The proof is in the pudding, whatever the hell that means. The band’s new CD, Take No Prisoners, being released with a show Saturday night at the Yardbird Suite, is a slick and largely chord-less affair – that is, aside from guests, the meat of the sound is served with just drums, bass and sax, no piano or guitar to spell out the chords. The sparse sound is nothing new in jazz. Joshua Redman is just one heavy cat who’s gone chordless. But the space, chemistry and interplay between just three musicians – none of which can play more than a couple of notes at a time (and you need at least three to create a chord) – offers freedom one might not have with larger groups. You can tell they’re really listening to each other on this CD; you can hear AB Trio’s goal: to serve the songs rather than the egos of the individual players.

There’s also that matter of being able to “work all the time,” as the man says. While AB Trio owe some of that to good old-fashioned DIY (“Do It Yourself”) spirit in promoting and hustling for gigs, this band gets a good deal of repeat business. Bad lounge acts don’t often get asked back. Amazing as it might seem to outsiders who think jazz is cold and sterile, it appears that this college-trained instrumental combo is making an emotional connection with its fans.

Bennett mentions a “dedicated” following, adding, “I’m not used to being a band that has a dedicated following.” Like his partners, the drummer is long used to working as sideman in a variety of projects in order to survive in the local jazz scene. It feels good to be a leader, he says, and on a recent tour of Southern Alberta, “weird” to see people into the band in places supposedly dominated by country and rock ‘n’ roll.

He says, “At every gig, someone will usually come up and say, ‘I didn’t even know that I liked jazz,’ which is great because it seems like we’re converting people – because there’s a lot of bad jazz out there and I think it turns people off as a whole.”