Seven seconds into this Belgian piano trio's debut album and it already sounds like the drummer is venturing off script, although the entire trio is off script throughout much of Too Noisy Fish's Fast Easy Sick. Still, drummer Teun Verbruggen makes quite an entrance on "13 Potatoes." Pianist Peter Vandenberghe and bassist Kristof Roseeuw begin in a ruminative mood, the tempo of a steady ballad paced out by Vandenberghe's left hand and Roseeuw's walking bassline as the pianist begins a pretty, cocktail jazz-friendly melody -- and then Verbruggen abruptly stumbles in with a tumbling crash on the drums like a waiter entering a sophisticated gathering and dumping a tray full of hors d'oeuvres onto the marble floor. Vandenberghe and Roseeuw remain unfazed, continuing as if nothing had happened, so Verbruggen tries again to get their attention. And again. The drummer ultimately wends his way toward something (just a bit) smoother as Vandenberghe and Roseeuw pick up their own pace, and voila!, soon they're all basically swinging from the same chandelier. After they knock the tune down to a slow but punchy tempo, Vandenberghe begins jabbing at the keys à la Mengelberg, and the tune ends where it began but with Verbruggen reined in, although he seems to register slight rhythmic complaints at having been tamed.
Too Noisy Fish continue to rip up the pages of the piano trio rulebook during the remaining ten tracks of this 2011 album, not entirely unexpected for three musicians who form the rhythm section of the wonderfully whacked-out big band Flat Earth Society -- and it's particularly interesting to hear a harmonically advanced jazzy Vandenberghe composing nearly everything and working his way around an acoustic piano exclusively, after a recording career that often finds him on electric keys with the likes of FES, X-Legged Sally, and Univers Zero. And while Verbruggen is no stranger to the piano trio format, this band likely provides him with more opportunities for outright sonic sabotage than he gets backing Jef Neve. But although these tracks routinely segue into the unexpected, the band is actually quite the cohesive unit. Verbruggen is staggeringly hyper-rhythmic on the electronica-inspired "Amen Yourself/Ultratonic" and Vandenberghe and Roseeuw are fully in the pocket with him. Ever inventive, Roseeuw carries the melody for a while on "Black Keys, White Keys," an atmospheric track with surprising treatments that push into electro-acoustics, while "There's Lots of Us," a Vandenberghe co-write with Pierre Vervloesem (who handled mixing and mastering), has its own oddball sonic embellishments, including overdubbed echoey Robert Wyatt-esque wordless vocalizations. "Curly Wurly, Napoleon" is modern creative jazz of the highest order -- if you can handle the deadpan repeated voice-over of the title where a saxophone would usually be. And while "Fish That Sing Can't Swim" has the feel of a standard twisted into knots, Too Noisy Fish also speed up the tempo on QOTSA's "The Sky Is Falling," giving able competition to the Bad Plus in the rock covers game.