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REVIEW | FLEX Trio "Facets of Form" by Patrick Romanowski

Flex Trio's new album, “Facets of Form” is a wind up precision cooker from the new Chicago instrumental trio in their recording debut. With Chris Madsen on tenor and soprano saxophone, Clark Sommers on bass, and Neil Hemphill on drums, the trio takes on a variety of standards and deeper cuts with an excellent contour of interpretation and virtuosic interplay that really lifts.

Tightening their feel playing out over the past few years, Flex Trio has been making strides around town and hammering out their repertoire consistently. They nail their set down here. Recorded in the space of an afternoon, the album has the sweet vibe of a club set. It is exciting listening in on the trio carve the iconic material with their distinct touch. They display an emphatic tunefulness and  distillation of the material, swinging and expanding attentively as they sear through the driving heart center of the music with sharp, clear focus. 

They open with a tight take on “’Til Then,' ' by Bobby Hutcherson. Trading flutter for flex right out of the gate, Hemphill and Sommers clip into the zone and swing expertly, blasting the undercurrent with brilliant strokes of rhythm as Madsen soars about the tuneful head with trill and soulful eloquence.

On Wayne Shorter’s “Hammerhead” ala Jazz Messengers, they fly into the explosive hardbop classic with velocity and control. Hemphill drives a hard shuffle with a fierce snap and glides into a rollicking solo that knocks the fray wide open as Madsen and Sommers lean into the motion with wonderful accompaniment.

Taking a breath, they lock into a grooving, stripped rendition of “Ease Back,” by The Meters. Sommers takes a superb solo at the top of the number that makes the song really shine and work on a new level as an expansive trio piece with the upright leaping out front. Building it to a head, Madsen hops into an immense solo that weaves and jumps marvellously.

Staying in the pocket they lap into a tasty feel on “Why Not,” by George Cables. The sharp downtempo feel of the track has a torque to it which they trace through perfectly. They balance the changes nicely, juxtaposing the hooks of the back beat with heavy rhythmic sparring throughout as they work their way in and out of the melody. 

On “Witchita Lineman” they take on the Jimmy Webb classic in a spiritual, meditative mode. The tone really shimmers and expands outward here . They harness the orchestral opulence of the Glen Campell classic and reinterpret the arrangement with a delicate flourish.  With an affectionate and lyrical feel they work within the momentum of the song and expand on the theme beautifully.  

8 tracks altogether, "Facets of Form" is a terrific showcase of Madsen, Sommers, and Hemphill working together on another level. The interpretation of the music and range of tunes exercised in the trio format are expertly pieced together with a concise dynamism. A vibrant feel that undoubtedly promises to deliver the same masterful excellence and blazing vitality in a live setting. 

Check it out. 

Patrick Romanowski is a writer living in Chicago. He is a regular contributor to the Evanston Roundtable. He works 9-5 at a hip record shop in Wicker Park and on Sundays he tends bar at a joint in Uptown. In his spare time he enjoys coffee, riding the CTA, and roaming around the city.


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