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With EIVIND OPSVIK (bass) & JEFF DAVIS (drums)

Jesse Stacken, Bagatelles for Trio

Béla Bartók’s “Fourteen Bagatelles” (1908) were among the Hungarian composer’s earliest masterpieces. The collection of piano miniatures marked a formative moment in the young composer’s life, harkening back to the Romanticism of the century just ended, showing nascent traces of his exploration of his native country’s folk music, and taking bold new steps in the direction of the avant-garde.

At a similarly early stage in his own already-impressive career, pianist/composer Jesse Stacken has composed his own set of Bagatelles – one less in number than Bartók’s, but expanded for a piano trio and open to jazz improvisation.

Jesse Stacken

“I really liked Bartók’s ‘Bagatelles’ and studied them,” Stacken says. “And as I was learning them, I thought that a lot of them were almost perfect for inspiring some sort of improvisation. Each one is short, concise, and portrays one or two very direct ideas. So I thought about composing something with that in mind.”

Stacken’s “Bagatelles” were conceived for his working trio with bassist Eivind Opsvik and drummer Jeff Davis. The trio formed in 2005 and has recorded two previous albums for Fresh Sound New Talent Records: That That (2007), which also focused largely on shorter works, and Magnolia(2009), which explored more extended forms. Stacken calls Bagatelles for Trioboth an extension of and departure from those previous releases.

Recorded shortly after achieving his master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music, “the first record was me trying to get away from school,” Stacken says. “I was just trying to respectfully reject some of that college-sounding jazz, get out of my comfort zone and get into some different sounds. Magnolia was more about rediscovering the sound of the piano.”
This third release, Stacken continues, became driven by “a return to melody.” That goal is clear throughout, in each of the Bagatelles’ starkly bare-bones presentation of its core elements. Unadorned melody stands in skeletal relief on pieces like the ethereally introspective “No. 3,” the slyly darting “No. 4,” or the stutter-stop “No. 8.” But elements that inflected those previous discs recur here: the resonant intonations of the piano, influenced by the work of composer Morton Feldman, motivates a number of pieces, “No. 1” in particular. At the same time, even in their abbreviated form, several works are constructed with intricate frameworks; “No. 8” and “No. 11” draw inspiration from Schoenberg’s 12-tone serial technique and “No. 12” from the immense chords of Messiaen’s compositions for organ.

More than any individual piece, however, the entire set of Bagatelles for Trio can be viewed as a single extended work, and Stacken labored to craft an overarching unity for the album as a whole. The trio performs the piece only in its entirety, in the order represented on the CD, never as individual selections out of context.

Stacken insists that the composition of the Bagatelles was heavily influenced by the individual voices of his longtime triomates. He initially met Davis while both were playing with saxophonist Peter Van Huffel, though when it came time to form his own group, “Jeff was not the most comfortable choice,” Stacken says. “He’s got a very warm feeling to his playing, but he’s not a guy who lays down the time. He plays around the kit in a very melodic way. I decided to go with Jeff to get me going in a different direction.”

Stacken calls Opsvik, “an amazing player, but he also has a really strong personality and he a lot of artistic savvy. He has a really good ear.” It was Opsvik, in fact, who finally pointed out that a fourteenth Bagatelle seemed not to fit; Stacken agreed and removed the piece.

“The chemistry between us seems to work and develop really well,” Stacken says of the trio. “We’re friends and have a really good time together on and off the bandstand. It seems to be getting better and better as we go.”

Originally from Hopkins, Minnesota, Stacken studied music education at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire before earning his master’s at the Manhattan School of Music. He has since become an active participant in New York’s creative music scene. Besides his trio, he works regularly with trumpeter/cornetist Kirk Knuffke; the two have recorded a pair of albums as a duo and a third, as a trio with drummer Kenny Wolleson, was recently released. Stacken recently formed a quartet called For the Mill with some of New York’s most inventive musicians: saxophonists Andrew D’Angelo and Josh Sinton and drummer Mike Pride.

Release Date: June 12, 2012

Jesse Stacken: Upcoming Performances

Thursday May 3: Jesse Stacken Solo Piano, I-Beam, 8:30 PM
Brooklyn, NY

Sat May 12: Stacken/Knuffke Duo, I-Beam, 8:30 PM
Brooklyn, NY

Thurs June 7: Liam Sillery Quintet, Somethin’ Jazz Club 7pm
New York, NY

Fri June 29: Jesse Stacken Trio, Tenri Cultural Institute, 8pm
Bagatelles for Trio CD Release
New York, NY

For more information, please visit jessestacken.com and freshsoundrecords.com

..:: SOURCE: Fully Altered Media ::..