What, another jazz trio already? Not so fast. The Karuna Trio is anything but your average jazz trio made up of a rhythm section and some lead instrument like a piano or a sax. This trio features improvisers Adam Rudolph, Hamid Drake and Ralph M. Jones playing “membranophones (fingers, sticks and hands), idiophones, chordophones, overtone singing, electronic processing, aerophones and voices” to recreate an “undiscovered country of sonic invention.” In other words, this isn’t even close to being a jazz trio, even though you will hear fundamentals of theme and improvisation poke through occasionally. Their new album, Imaginary Archipelago, is a stunning mix of world music and electronica, and it’s hypnotic and gorgeous.
If the musical duties described above seem convoluted, think of it this way: Karuna Trio is basically two percussionists and a saxophone player. Imaginary Archipelago features eleven spontaneous tracks that portray the discovery of a new music on a previously unknown set of islands, and how that music would have developed without outside influences. It’s a crazy, inspired idea, and it’s successful because it sounds so organic and natural. If someone played this album for you and then explained it was music from some lost tribe, you probably wouldn’t question the concept. (You might wonder how the sax got there–let’s just say it washed up on shore, creating a cargo cult.)
The stunning music on Imaginary Archipelago isn’t based as much on rhythm, despite the many layers of percussion. (At times it reminded me of Mickey Hart‘s Planet Drum recordings, but less jolting.) The Karuna Trio is more focused on a flow of music, a subdued chaos that often keeps to a whisper. This is the music you hear when you’ve first landed on shore. These are the drums that beat in the distance, fomenting both dread and wonder.
The Karuna Trio, in other words, was a compete surprise to me, something to shake me loose in the middle of a jazz-infused quarantine. I love the mysticism presented in albums such as Imaginary Archipelago, and the very idea of coming up with a tremendous backstory and then setting it to music. The most astonishing aspect is the improvisation–this music wasn’t planned, but felt. It flowed, like the ocean currents around these beautiful islands. If this sounds like something you’d dig, it probably is.