In 2003 electronic and jazz musician Brett Sroka formed
Ergo, a trio with keyboardist Carl Maguire and drummer Shawn Baltazor.
They debuted with
Quality Anatomechanical Music Since 2005 (Actuator, 2006)
the same year when Maguire released his solo
Floriculture (Between the Lines, 2005).
After the tense overture of Rana Sylvatica,
Multitude Solitude (Cuneiform, 2009) plunges into the
sleepy bluesy watery languor of the 12-minute Vessel, a good example of
how the trio smother simple melodies into viscous trombone-piano interplay
against the backdrop of inventive and tumultuous drumming.
The mostly tender She Haunts Me
peaks with a very haunting middle section in which the keyboards whisper to each other.
The eleven-minute Endlessly begins mournful and almost slow-motion, and
then adds pomp and melodrama to what sounds like a requiem.
The apparently aimless nine-minute Actuator is the most abstract piece.
Here the melodic center that was already fuzzy and fluctuating in the other
pieces tends to dissolve as a mere chimera, with the music languishing in the
state of sonic amoeba.
Sroka also formed the sextet Hearsay:
Brett Sroka on trombone, Avishai Cohen on trumpet, Aaron Stewart on tenor sax,
Jason Moran on piano, John Sullivan on bass and Eric Harland on drums.
They debuted with Hearsay (february 2001).
Sroka also composed Voices I Heard (premiered in october 2002) for
trombone, piano, bass and drums.
Ergo's If Not Inertia (Cuneiform, 2012) features
Brett Sroka on trombone and computer, Sam Harris on
keyboards and Shawn Baltazor on drums, plus guitarist Mary Halvorson on
The first two pieces are mesmerizing.
Halvorson's quasi-flamenco guitar phrases carve a human space in the
tense rhythmic trance a` la Necks of
Sorrows Of The Moon.
Sam Harris' piano and Baltazor's ticking percussion pen the
sublime chamber music for lonely nights of Two For Joy.
The longer Little Shadow, however, is a relatively straightforward
trombone-led jazz ballad, after which, as its title says, the album falls
into some kind of uninspired inertia, bordering on boredom. Hence,
If Not Inertia cannot muster the strength to coalesce around a
center of mass, The Widening Gyre is a confused accumulation of
bombastic statements, and Gonz is a chaotic and brainy jam by musicians
who don't seem to like playing with each other. Some degree of magic
is regained by closer Let's thanks to a festive trombone,
marching drums and chirping piano keys.
Brett Sroka then composed a seven-movement suite inspired by Emily Dickinson's poetry, As Subtle as Tomorrow (july 2013 - Cuneiform, 2016).
As Tomorrow opens with menacing drones that are only diluted, but never negated, by the dejected dialogue of piano, sax and tom-toms that follows.
This is the beginning of a painful journey into the psyche.
The ten-minute A Name is a series of languid piano ripples in an ocean of pallid rhythm, rising to a thundering fervor; one of his most elegant and profound compositions.
A Dada kind of neurosis permeates both
hysterical rhythmic intermezzo A Warrant and the
mysterious inertia of As Subtle, an abstract watercolor.
A Conviction intones a jovial singalong for stuttering trombone over inventive rhythm and amid collage-like arrangement; the rare fusion of folk, musique concrete and jazz.