• Jonathan Widran

TRITONE ASYLUM, The Hideaway Sessions

The Hideaway Sessions, the second album by the stylistically diverse and wildly adventurous L.A. based jazz fusion ensemble Tritone Asylum, doesn’t sound like any other contemporary work in the genre for a very simple and cool reason. Philip Topping, who founded the group with bassist Peter Sepsis, plays the EVI aka the electronic valve instrument, which has an eerie, shapeshifting sound that sounds a bit like an offbeat trombone but is really beyond sonic category.

Suffice to say, when he pops into a trippy funked up romp like “Schizophrenia” or the odd metered, dynamically off center jam “The 54 Blues,” Topping takes the tune in wildly trippy directions that no mainstream horn can. For comparison’s sake, try the opener, a warm, breezy Latin/Calypso sojourn “Grasshopper,” which more prominently features Andy Waddell’s guitar and Ian Vo’s sax. Joining forces with the supple groove Sepsis creates with drummer Dave Johnstone and playful harmonies and runs by famed pianist/keyboardist Mitch Forman, those cats create nothing short of magic. And yet, their vibe is so normal, within the typical realm of what jazz ensembles should sound like – which makes the tunes more dominated by Topping much more intriguing once the ear attunes.


Another unique aspect of The Hideaway Sessions is that it’s become a great big family of like-minded West Coast artists, yet they’re determined to take us on all sorts of exotic adventures beyond U.S. shores – including Vietnam (the mournful meditation “The Road to Hue”), the African country of “Malawi” (an master class in hypnotic exotica which starts with a chanting birdsong Sepsis heard on the shores of Lake Malawi) and Thailand via a lovely, reflective “Ballad for Nongna” penned by Topping for his longtime companion of Thai descent.


Closer to home, the ensemble captures the cheerful carefree joy of the ”First Days of Summer,” a freewheeling trad jazz song rich in rumbling drums and some of Forman’s most innovative imaginings on piano.