Keyboardist/composer Peter Vandenberghe's rambunctious piano trio Too Noisy Fish do not whisper a soft greeting on the opening track of their sophomore album, 2013's Fight Eat Sleep. A slap upside the head is more like it. Unlike the opening tune ("13 Potatoes") of the Flemish trio's 2011 debut, Fast Easy Sick -- which saw drummer Teun Verbruggen announcing his presence with crashing and bashing almost goofily at odds with the initial contemplative mood of Vandenberghe and bassist Kristof Roseeuw -- all three bandmembers are immediately in sync and fired up on Fight Eat Sleep's opener, "Bring It Home/Oh God." Too Noisy Fish are all muscle and no fussle as Vandenberghe and Roseeuw lock into an irregular stop-start pulse, the pianist throws in an emphatic off-meter chord as punctuation, and Verbruggen pummels his kit. Engineering and mixing the sessions at his California studio, Oz Fritz gave the trio a huge sound -- particularly Verbruggen, whose drums are massive and rockish despite his paradoxically nimble touch. After the initial onslaught of pyrotechnics -- including an interlude in which the roaring Roseeuw seems to saw his bass in two -- the opener's second half (the "Oh God" part) sets the listener gently down in the comfortable easy chair of a bluesy, sonorous ballad that even features Verbruggen switching to brushes. Merely four minutes into the album and a breather is already a good idea.
In a musical juxtaposition that might suggest a tussle between science and faith, "In Dust We Trust" finds Vandenberghe repeatedly plinking out a single precise note that ingeniously transforms into a sprightly backbeat persisting over sanctified gospel chords. As on Fast Easy Sick, Vandenberghe again proves his pianistic mastery -- dynamically wide-ranging, harmonically adventurous, and coupling sheer soloing chops with idiosyncratic phrasing -- but his composing is also a revelation: it's easy to imagine a multi-layered track like "In Dust We Trust" arranged for Peter Vermeersch's Flat Earth Society big band, of which Vandenberghe, Roseeuw, and Verbruggen are all members. FES-like extra-musical forays -- both serious and wacky -- also find their way into the program: in "Necrophilology," Vandenberghe's piano imbues an audio extract from the conclusion of Andrei Tarkovsky's 1979 film Stalker with a suitably dark and mysterious classicism before the full trio picks up the vibe on a moody 13/8 vamp driven by Roseeuw's rich bass; "Jazz Invaders" swings, stutters, and jabs its way through an onslaught of Space Invaders laser cannons; and "Slow B" and "Fast B" are rudely interrupted by cellphone calls to a flustered Fritz. (As for unpredictability of a purely musical sort, the one non-Vandenberghe tune, a cover of Charlie Parker's "Segment," is "Segmented" into motivic chunks before launching into skewed boppishness.) But even serious-minded piano jazz scholars shouldn't let such left turns dissuade them from investigating Too Noisy Fish, who throughout Fight Eat Sleep prove themselves to be one of the most exciting, focused, and indeed telepathic piano trios on the planet.