Though their pedigrees reveal them as accomplished jazz musicians, the trio of drummer Michele Rabbia, trombonist Gianluca Petrella, and guitarist Eivind Aarset individually and collectively have a deep interest in exploring electronic and ambient soundscapes. Aarset's explorations date back to his 1998 Jazzland debut Electronique Noire, and his subsequent leader and sideman dates for ECM (including work with Jon Hassell and Arve Henriksen). Rabbia's experiments with sonic atmospheres and sampling date back to her 2010 Pastorale on ECM with pianist Stefano Battaglia. Petrella, renowned globally for his lyrical approach to melodic improvising on trombone, has a background in experimental electronic music as evidenced by 2004's Under Construction in collaboration with bassist Furio Di Castri. Lost River, a ten-track trio offering is, as implied by its title, a series of (mostly) electro-acoustic improvisations revolving around themes of water.
Space, silence, and texture are the guideposts for opener "Nimbus," that offers a hint of Hassell's work on Dream Theory in Malaya, where the 'bone and drums offer a foreground for Aarset's guitars and keyboards to paint with a spectral brush. As it evolves, Petrella's horn offers a winding improvisational melody colored by Rabbia's deft, haunting cymbal work. While "Flood" is at once more amorphous and brooding in its intro, the abstract and atmospheric samples and keyboard washes frame the horn with only a repeating four-note pattern by Petrella to ground it all. "What Floats Beneath" is sparse, languid, and all-enveloping with its fingerpicked electric guitars, brushed snares, breathy, droning brass phrases, and seemingly found sounds. "Styx" is even more amorphous. It emerges all dark and foreboding, but as Petrella and Aarset play simpatico melodic fragments in the foreground, Rabbia's samples paint the backdrop in echoing stillness. The set's second half kicks off with "Night Sea Journey." Based on a bluesy two-chord vamp, it comes across as a meld of Miles Davis' "Sssh…Peaceful" from In a Silent Way, and Henriksen's "Recording Angel" from Cartography. Form is tossed out the window on "What Water Brings," replaced by interactive percussive interplay centered around muted tones and tapped, plucked strings amid warm reverb and elongated lines of minor percussion. "Flotsam" sounds like its title, with fragmented guitar chords, restrained electronic noises, and buzzing guitar. Despite the abstraction found on Lost River, it holds together almost effortlessly. The brief final number, "Wadi," offers a more muscular -- albeit still quite tempered -- group interaction via the articulation of long, slow trombone and guitar tonalities with Rabbia thudding on a tom-tom here, or a cymbal wash and snare-rim tick there, and Petrella's intake and exhalation of breath in a single note. It's completely free -- much of the album is -- but never indulgent. Lost River is a beauty, a ghostly, nocturnal meditation on water in a subdued blending of instrumental voices. They color in the margins of silence with restraint, warmth, economy, undulating utterances, and textures. Ambient jazz doesn't get any better.