Drop Trio
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"Three Ring Circus Maximus"

For avant-garde instrumental progressive funk jazz lovers, Drop Trio’s the only game in town
Bob Ruggiero, Feature Article, Houston Press – May 20, 2004

Ian Varley does not have any children.
This is readily apparent by the way the keyboardist for Drop Trio unthinkingly drops the F-bomb in the lobby of Monterey's Little Mexico, oblivious to the wee small girl with her mother paying for their taco dinners only feet away. He is married, though, and his red beard -- which I heard was approaching ZZ Top starter-kit length -- has been neatly trimmed. "I succumbed to wifely pressure," he offers. But he still can grow face fur that most men can only fantasize about. Damn.
Drummer Mike Blattel and bassist Ron "Nino" Batista soon arrive. Along with Varley, we retire to a corner booth. There, over potent margaritas and Elmer's glue-like quesadillas, they discuss life as the only "avant-garde instrumental progressive funk jazz" act in Houston. Try finding a shelf for that category at the record store.
But one bin you'll find in every record store is the one marked "soundtracks." And chances are that all of those bins will have a copy of the soundtrack to the new Cedric the Entertainer vehicle Johnson Family Vacation. And on that CD you'll find a Drop Trio song. The band has the Knowles family to thank for this little coup. One of the movie's co-stars, Solange Knowles (Beyoncé's little sister), sings a track on it called "Freedom" over the Drop Trio tune "Lefty's Alone." Seems that the younger Knowles caught a couple of the DT's shows, picked up a CD, became enchanted with the track and wrote some lyrics.
"It turned out much better than we expected. We thought she was just going to do a sample," says Varley. Blattel points out that the tune appears just before a Barry White track. "We're in the lovemaking section…"
Making love, stomping on the dance floor or just chillin' -- Drop Trio's music is adaptable to any of those activities. One can get lost listening to their excellent CD Big Dipper, finding something new in it with each spin -- which works out, considering the trio's diverse group of fans. "Some people come out to focus on us, and some just like it as background music, which is fine," says Varley, who plays Rhodes piano and a Hammond B-3 organ. In fact, they joked about calling a live CD Playing to the Backs of Audiences.
"We also have a desire to push experimental limits," Batista says. "But we know that's not for everybody. We've gotten into trouble for playing too loud at jazz clubs…the funk just comes out with the heavy beat."
In fact, the band never plays a song the same way twice, which, along with their groove-oriented sound, has led to happy huggies from the local jam-band community. "Those fans are very open-minded musically," Varley says. Of course, there are times when the staid jazz and happy hippie worlds collide and create friction -- as when two spin dancers were ejected from a DT gig at the posh downtown Twelve Spot for not wearing shoes.
Worlds also collide within their music. A major influence on Drop Trio's sound, which isn't always apparent, is prog-rock. All three are huge fans. So while "funk jazz" captures the general aesthetic of their sound, there are also plenty of intricate key changes, multi-melody parts and time-signatures shifts. "We can make odd time signatures danceable, but we're still dorks," Blattel says. […]
- The Houston Press


"Houston Press Nomination"

Houston isn't the greatest city in the world for live jazz, but folks like Drop Trio are out to change that. They don't really fit in with the avant-garde, the martini sippers or the purists; they're more for the young cats who like their jazz a bit funked up with lots of energy. Drop Trio is anchored by a rhythm section tighter than the Texas education budget and a Rhodes keyboard that gets pushed to its limits on every cut. Think Medeski Martin and Wood, without their lame DJ, and then add in some elements of bayou funk and acid-tinged San Francisco hipness, and you're close to describing the sound of their instrumental jams. - The Houston Press


"Drop Trio Drops Debut Album"

Haig Assadourian, Album Review, Jambase.com

Houston’s Drop Trio recently released its first full-length CD, Big Dipper. An acid-jazz constellation featuring the trio of Ian Varley on Rhodes piano and Hammond organ, Mike Blattel on drums, and Nino Batista on electric bass deliver twelve melodic jazz pieces that are fresh, atmospheric grooves. Their sound is welcome to any fan of Medeski, Martin & Wood and in many ways, they represent the more fluid aspect of that style. […]

Rarely does a player solo. Or perhaps they are all soloing in unison? "Melody-Melody," the longest track on the CD at 5:26, is comprised of sections of moods and funky interludes. I found myself returning to this engaging and complex track more than any other.

Blattel's tight, yet understated, drum work is showcased on songs such as "Invisible Pants" and "Wet Dog." "Abbey Rhodes" teases the listener to a fun jam that should translate into intriguing potential for live show explorations. Hints of soul and funk are added generously throughout the mix of songs. […]

The band cites a wide range of influences that cover funk, jambands and even '70s prog-rock. I could have sworn I heard a Yes influence on "Lefty’s Alone." Aggregating these types of disparate styles successfully is a tricky thing for any band. Drop Trio finds ways to introduce musical phrases that add diversity to its compositions yet still stay true to its acid-jazz roots. With bassist Marc Reczek joining in on recent live shows, Drop Trio is poised to make its mark in the future of jazz.
- Jambase.com


"Local Rotation"

"Jazz is all about bold experimentation. From Miles Davis's loved and reviled On the Corner through Phil Collins's late-'70s trio Brand X to the more modern Earl Harvin Trio and Medeski, Martin & Wood, jazz players often have worked at new ways to further their sound -- sometimes receiving in return only critical pans and the anger of longtime fans.

The members of local instrumental jazz-funk combo Drop Trio obviously were aware of these potential pitfalls when they went into the studio earlier this year to record their latest album, Leap. After all, the effort was a leap of faith: It was completely improvised. The band -- keyboardist Ian Varley, drummer Nuje Blattel and bassist Patrick Flanagan -- would just sit down and play, and then worry about learning whatever songs arose.

Perhaps as a result of this hyper-spontaneity, Leap offers an amazing cross-section of styles. From the harder-edged rhythms of ""Rifles"" to the three-part, meandering ""Robot Suit"" suite, Drop Trio takes its influences (think Emerson, Lake & Palmer covering the theme from Taxi with help from George Clinton) and one-ups them with a unique formula of modern jazz. "
- The Houston Press


"Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, with Drop Trio"

The JFJO is brilliantly paired for this date with Houston/Austin's Drop Trio, hot off their own new release, Live at Cezanne. Though this year has seen a stuffed Cadillac's worth of Houston-area rappers garner national attention, don't be surprised if jazz and jam circles outside the city soon embrace these immensely talented jazz funkers. Ian Varley (keyboards), Patrick Flanagan (bass) and Nuje Blattel (drums) play an amalgamation of jazz, funk and prog-rock in their own brand of "spaceship music," and this live effort is named for the tiny local club where it was recorded. Eight of the 11 songs here are takes on tracks from their previous records, the debut, Big Dipper, and the wholly improvised, avant-garde leaning Leap. Thankfully, there's no antiseptic faithful re-creation here -- many tunes are utterly transformed by Varley's heavy use of acoustic piano, with his favored vintage electric keys playing a mostly supporting part. "Wallawalla," "Wreck of the Zephyr" and "Mothership," with its Tito Puente-as-alien intro, are not so much better or worse than their studio counterparts as they shoot off in challenging and exciting branches from a shared root. "Abbey Rhodes" turns Varley into the similarly hirsute Gregg Allman in one section, and "Robot Suit I" is the best example of the cohesion between Varley's plugged and unplugged worlds. Of the new tunes, "Shelby" brings a funky good time with Blattel's drum work, and the reggae/samba styled "L.U.G." makes the most of multiple time shifts. There are some minor flaws, though. Flanagan's bass seems oddly buried too low in the sound mix, and the jam-friendly trio gets the occasional penalty for Excessive Noodling in the End Zone. But overall, Cezanne is equally suited to both those who've never heard the group before and diehards who regularly download live shows from the band's Web site. At this year's Houston Press Music Awards, the group won Best Jazz/Funk, and Varley won Best Keyboardist. This CD easily shows just why both honors were well deserved. - Houston Press


Discography

Cezanne—2005

The band's first official live release, Cezanne finds the band giving energetic, extended treatments to tunes from their first two studio releases, as well as mixing in a few new compositions. "Shows why Drop Trio is a favorite among Texas jazz lovers," (All About Jazz), and "easily shows just why the Best Jazz honors were well deserved."

http://www.droptrio.com/Music/albums/Cezanne.html

Leap—2004

Leap was recorded at Sugarhill Studios on February 29th, 2004, and was 100% improvised. Combining the energy of spontaneous musical creation with the incredible sound fidelity that comes from working at a world-class studio, Leap shows Drop Trio as a fluid, surprising musical unit.

http://www.droptrio.com/Music/albums/Leap.html

Big Dipper—2003

Drop Trio recorded Big Dipper in spring 2003. As the band’s first full-length record, the release showcases the band’s nuanced playing and inventive songwriting.

http://www.droptrio.com/Music/albums/BigDipper.html

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

Drop Trio is an instrumental band from Texas, "anchored by a rhythm section tighter than the Texas education budget and a Rhodes keyboard that gets pushed to its limits on every cut" (Houston Press).

Born in 2002, the band has been playing original music across the southern United States, releasing three critically acclaimed studio albums and garnering many honors en route (including 3 showcases at SxSW and 6 houston press awards).