Russ Lossing

pianist . composer . improviser

Folks Reviews

New York City Jazz Record - November, 2022

Press Release by Bret Sjerven:

When considering the world of folkloric music, it is astounding to think that sound ideas from places remote and isolated regularly find similar solutions and approaches to one another. Pianist/composer Russ Lossing has been interested in the expressive power of simplicity in folk music from throughout the world. Lossing brought together his trio of bassist John Hébert and drummer Michael Sarin to record an album inspired by his study on Folks.

Lossing's focus on creating music that is accessible and open to wider development through improvisation led him to study folkloric music. His findings led him to focus more and more on the development of strong melodies and the use of call and response. For his own approach on the piano, Lossing would generate a melodic motif and then expand it into a longer related pattern, mimicking the call and response actions heard in music of various cultures throughout the world. Lossing uses the idea of folk melodies without quoting any directly, generating an instinct in creating this music and establishing an esthetic.

Performing this music with an ensemble of sympathetic and curious musicians gives the material added dimensions. Lossing recruited his regular trio mates of Hébert and Sarin to be his foils. Lossing began playing regularly with Sarin with upon his arrival in New York City in 1991 and Hébert would be a regular collaborator once he arrived on the scene a few years later. As a trio, they have been playing for nearly three decades and have an incredible musical bond.

The material on Folks came from a long gestation period of 10 to 15 years. For the most part, the music utilizes Lossing's original melodies that Hébert and Sarin react to naturally. The pieces then open up for free group improvisation set to the tone of Lossing's compositions.

The recording comes from the second of two days' work in July 2017 at Charlestown Road Studio. The first day included saxophonist Loren Stillman and was released as Metamorphism (Sunnyside, 2021).

The program begins with the entrancing ballad, “Heaven Above,” the only piece that was written with key changes and in time, using a circular form over harmonic sequences for the improvised sections. “Village Folk” shows the depth that the trio can reach as they generate intensity with added emphasis on the melody as it repeats. The snappy “Grey” looks toward Lossing's hero, composer Béla Bartók, and his melodic concept and structures for reference. “Country Folk” uses a simple minor chord progression to achieve its Eastern European essence.

The offbeat “Call Now” is built entirely on call and response, which is heard in the piano melody and countermelodies, with Sarin and Hébert adding some fascinating rejoinders of their own. “Mountain Folk” has chord changes but the rubato setting allows the musicians to float through the meditative piece like clouds through the peaks. The energetic “Lightning Bug” is a fun workout for the trio, especially for Sarin's bombastic drums. The recording closes with “Village Folk II,” the piece finding a coming together of three wandering voices into beautiful harmony.

The transportive music of Russ Lossing, John Hébert, and Michael Sarin sounds contemporary and familiar all at once. Their focus on taking age old, effective musical devices and then incorporating modern improvisatory techniques with them, constructing music of true communicatory depth, is truly astounding and perfectly encapsulated on their new recording, Folks.  

jazz trail


Russ Lossing - FOLKS

August 4, 2022

Label: Sunnyside Records, 2022

Personnel - Russ Lossing: piano; John Hébert: bass; Michael Sarin: drums.

Pianist Russ Lossing cloaks his music in a haze of folkloric refinement for this particular jazz trio album with bassist John Hébert, a faithful collaborator for more than 20 years, and drummer Michael Sarin, in his second appearance with the pianist.

The composed folk melodies set the tone for the group improvisations with the exception of the balmy opening track, “Heaven Above”, which, shrouded in lyrical tranquility, off and on brings Bill Evans and John Taylor to mind. Here, the time is kept for the improvisations and the melodic treatment given by Lossing feels stunning with an emotional range. Hébert's notes are huge when comping while Sarin's sensitive percussion adds the perfect touch.

On both “Village Folk” and “Mountain Folk”, the trio smears the musical canvases with soft hues for a bucolic portraiture. But it's with “Country Folk”, another meditative, chant-like observation whose melody and harmony grab you strongly before lingering in the air, that the trio is at its best. Assuming a gorgeously asymmetric configuration, this particular number is enriched by lush piano notes that flow like a river, supportive yet never intrusive bass lines, and delicate brushwork. The ideas proliferate, expressed with different dynamics, just like on the Bartok-inspired “Grey”, which, revealing a more irreverent posture, leans on the avant-garde side despite the swinging post-bop thrust that runs at bottom.

Sophistication is in the call-and-response mechanisms proposed on “Call Now”, whose propensity to swing is complemented by an impeccably accented theme with concurrent playing by piano and bass, and also some Monk-meets-Motian spark. Hébert is particularly brilliant in the way he disguises and then disrupts during his bold statement.

Rather than embracing fragility through the simplicity of folk, the trio pursues a wild excitement on “Lightning Bug”, a rambunctious effort that shows their hard-to-predict frame of mind. Lossing's work has ranged from solo discs to duo and trio projects, projecting an expressive, personal sound that employs technique and sensibility on the side of emotions. Folks confirms that his heart is in the right place.

Favorite Tracks:

01 - Heaven Above 03 - Grey 04 - Country Folk

-     Filipe Freitas

JazzTimes Magazine. Aug. 24, 2022

The inner sleeve of pianist Russ Lossing's latest CD quotes from three very diverse characters—Louis Armstrong, Béla Bartók, and Friedrich Nietzsche—all weighing in on the topic of folk music. Armstrong's quote is perhaps the best known: “All music is folk music. I ain't never heard a horse sing a song.” The idea behind including the statements, and calling his new album Folks, one supposes, is to impress upon the listener that Lossing sees this collection of eight numbers as a universal music. Song titles such as “Village Folk,” “Country Folk,” and “Mountain Folk” reinforce the premise.

But don't go into it thinking you're about to hear some troubadour strumming an acoustic guitar and singing plaintively: This is audacious piano trio music, a sequel to Lossing's 2021 Metamorphism. From that set, the pianist retains bassist John Hébert and drummer Michael Sarin. Also retained is the improvisational, open-ended nature of the collaboration.

If there is an obviously folkloric component, it's in the trio's willingness, and ability, to state a simple melody, one that at times strikes the listener as familiar (if not quite specifically so), and venture together to places unknown. While there are suggestions of connections with other world cultures in some of the stated melodies, and in its colloquial nature, by the time the trio has gotten full hold of an idea, it has already transcended its source.

Of the pieces with the word “folk” in their title, the 11-minute “Country Folk” is both the most basic and most stimulating. Just past midway, the bassist and drummer go deep into a primal mode, while Lossing scampers in a delightfully shambolic manner. But just as thrilling is the much more compact “Lightning Bug,” in which the trio flits about giddily, restless and carefree. - JEFF TAMARKIN