Sean Foran on Trichotomy: ‘We keep finding new things to explore together’

It’s been almost a quarter of a century since Trichotomy first ventured into their quest to explore the possibilities of the jazz piano trio formation, and 20 years since their debut album, Now For the Free. Now they have a new release out, To Vanish, a testament to the places this ongoing quest has taken them to, and their sound is still as fresh as ever. Tonight the Brisbane-based trio is playing at the Count’s, Monash University’s own state-of-the-art jazz club, with the luminous Louisa Rankin opening for them. The trio comprises bassist Sam Vincent, drummer John Parker, and pianist Sean Foran, who sat down with us to talk about the new album, the evolution of the Trichotomy sound, and his personal musings about music and jazz. Read on — and when you reach the end, send us an email for your chance to win a double ticket for tonight’s performance!

What would you say to people to invite them to the concert?

I would say that the music that we play in this group is a really engaging blend of different influences — so you might hear a bit of jazz, you might hear a bit of experimental music, you might hear a bit of classical music, and it’s all kind of wrapped up together, but hopefully, it’s presented in a way that’s really exciting to listen to. The melodies are driving the music, and there’s a really strong sense of dynamics, it rises and falls, and it’s hopefully quite an emotional experience for the audience. When people come to our gigs sometimes I think they didn’t realise that jazz was like that, particularly if they are not a usual jazz goer, and if they are a usual jazz goer they’re hopefully taken along for the ride with the improvisation and composition blending.

We’re going to play a heap of new music from our latest album. It’s the first time we’re playing at the Count’s, so that’s kind of exciting for us, to be in a new venue.

How different is the new album from your previous recordings?

It’s interesting, we recorded it in 2019 and we were getting ready to release it, and thinking about touring, but then COVID kicked off and we just kind of put the brakes on, obviously, as everyone did. During that period, we had a bit of time to sit back and listen to it a bit more and think about the music a bit more texturally, which opened up a whole bunch of things. When we recording the previous album, Known-Unknown, we did a lot of live electronic manipulation of the acoustic sounds — there are lots of effects going on, and we really enjoyed that kind of augmenting of the natural sounds, so we’ve kept that going into the new album.

It’s become a really critical part of the way we play now, it’s part of the sound, having the acoustic instruments and having these electronic textures in there.

In the production of the new album, because we had the time and space to think a bit more about what could we do, we added more layers and brought in some friends to make it different from the last album.

We got Danny Widdicombe playing pedal steel guitar and we had composer Thomas Green remix one of the tracks, add some more keyboards and kind of cut it up and do some production work on it; we also had Nicole Tait play some bassoon on one of the tracks and we just thought that sounds amazing. All that stuff really took it to a different place sonically than the last album. Hopefully, the songs still retained the essence of the trio and the core of what we do and what we sound like, but it really pushed us into this new sound world. It felt like it took some of the ideas from the last album and got to grow them into bigger things — it was really exciting to see that happen. By the time we got to post-production, mixing and mastering, and got it ready for release, it was really different from that initial recording in the studio. That’s been something that we really enjoyed, it is a whole new thing which we are trying to replicate as best we can in our performances, to capture the intensity and all the sounds, but it’s never going to be like the studio, it’s something different altogether.

I also loved your work with Nozomi Omote; how do you choose which musicians to invite to collaborate with you?

The thing with the trio is that it’s kind of an item, when you have played together for a long time, and that creates a certain dynamic, a certain way of operating; so when you bring someone inside, they change the balance right away. A lot of the people that join us for these projects, like Nozomi, or Danny, are people we’re colleagues with, so we know them, we know the way they play, and we know them socially; there’s a real understanding of each other’s personalities and mutual admiration and friendship.

We approach collaborations from this place; we’re not thinking about instruments, we’re thinking about the person who would be really great to play with, bring their personality to the music, and add to what we do.

That’s how we end up creating this amplified sound, because it forces us as players and as composers to produce different things. So when we are playing with Nozomi we’ve got to write in a different way, we’ve got to engage in a different way, improvise in a different way; that’s stimulating, it urges us to make ourselves you find new ideas, not just rely on what we know.

You mentioned the dynamics of the trio; What it is like, to have this long-term working relationship with the same people?

I feel fortunate to have that. When I look at bands that I really admire, I notice that some of them have had that long-term bond and I really admire that — the sense of shared musicianship. I was listening to the new album by Brian Blade’s Fellowship yesterday and I was thinking that this is such a good group, and it just keeps getting better, their sound keeps evolving, it keeps growing, and I feel that I want to have that. We just keep finding new things to explore together, and our sense of trust is really strong, we can do things and rely on each other to go with it.

Do you argue?

No, not not much, because everyone has a part to play, taking care of different things, and we’re always asking what each other thinks. We try to be really open with each other.

It looks like you share a vision of what you create and what it will sound like; how do you come up with this vision?

I don’t know. We had a meeting the other day about this new album, and future projects, and where to go from here — touring, recording, collaborative projects, and what are some things that we want to explore. It was a really open discussion, and we were thinking if it would be interesting to do something with multimedia, if it would be interesting to do something with different types of audience interaction, or where can we play that we haven’t played before, and about instrumentation as well — more electronics, different types of keyboards and percussion.

It is always from the perspective of questioning what we can try that’s different, but also from a genuine sense of understanding of each other’s personality, and wanting to work to each other’s strenghs, but never pushing someone to do something.

For instance, when one of us comes in with a rough sketch of an idea, Sam will approach it from a really analytical perspective and try different concepts and really kind put the puzzle together or provide some ideas that I hadn’t thought of to complete it. John also is the opposite to me sometimes, in a way which is really interesting stylistically, so he’ll often give me things on the piano to play that I would not naturally try — ways of playing harmony and ways of playing rhythms that I wouldn’t gravitate towards. That’s great because then I can augment that with my own natural tendency so it really brings balance, we are countering each other in a way that enables us to be really strong together.

The piano trio formation is at the core of jazz for decades now, and it’s never exhausted, in terms of the things that you can do, and the same goes with the term ‘jazz’ itself. What is your idea of jazz?

I agree, the word ‘jazz’ can’t possibly define stylistically what the music is going to be, because it is so broad and so constantly changing. For me, it just informs that there’s a strong element of improvisation, that’s the only part of it that is definitive. Improvisation is a foundational part of the ethos behind the music, but from a style perspective, it is so unknown. That’s what I love about it — that it really takes in a lot of influences and redistributes them in a new way.

What I like about jazz is that it’s an interesting mirror to the music of its time; it’s taking in contemporary music that’s happening around it and reinterpreting it.

As a musician, you are informed by the legacy, the historical jazz practices and content, and all the traditional foundations of the music, but then you also approach it from your contemporary world and you bring in your own influences into it; so it’s really amazing that the music allows you to redefine what it can be all the time.

Which are the influences that you had as a trio?

That changes all the time. A large influence on the initial formation of the group was certainly the Esbjorn Svensson Trio — that was massive for us. I certainly had not heard piano trio music played in that way, with that type of melodic and rhythmic interactions in the group, and harmonies and effects. I thought that’s a place I’d like to be as a musician, in that sound. Going forward from that, we were certainly drawn into that Scandinavian tradition of players like Bobo Stenson and Jan Garbarek, but then also because we all studied classical music, we were influenced by the work of minimalist composers like Steve Reich and Terry Riley, and Michael Nyman, that kind of stuff.

What was also pivotal in the early stages was the music of John Zorn, particularly when we were collaborating with classical group Topology and other groups in Brisbane, we were playing and writing some stuff that was highly rhythmic in an experimental way. Fast forward a few years later, John and I had started really getting into Vijay Iyer and the work that he was doing, and again that opened up some more concepts of fascinating ways that you can create rhythmic conversations between the instruments, and layering things in different ways. More recently, we are venturing outside of jazz a bit, and bringing the broader kind of listening we do; we’re all super into the Punch Brothers, the temporary bluegrass group, and that informs our outlook on music.

For me personally, the greatest influence was John Taylor, the British pianist. I had a few lessons with him, a few years ago, and that was a really important time for me as a writer. When John plays, he doesn’t sound like anyone else, he sounds like him; that was hugely inspirational, what it’s like to sound like yourself, to define your style and your approach.

Have you found out how to do that? How someone finds their own voice?

I think it’s something that we’re certainly always working on, continually trying to define it, but I think it becomes about having some technical things in mind, like starting to have a really good command of language, and being able to execute ideas that you work on.

The other part is just having that sense of confidence in what you’re trying to do what you want to say and really stick with it. When I listen back to our albums, of course they are always hopefully different and evolving, but they certainly have a real sense of consistency of style. I really try to keep that in focus, and develop my sound and my approach to melody. The melody is everything for me.

Get the chance to win a double pass for Trichotomy’s peformance at the Count’s!

Send an email to, stating ‘Trichotomy’ on the subject line.

On Thursday 17 August, Trichotomy perform with Nozomi Omote at Queensland Conservatorium’s Ian Hanger Recital Hall

Listen/ Purchase