Drummer Tom Rainey is the Opposite of Discombobulated


Tom Rainey performs at the 2016 unerhört! Festival in Zürich, Switzerland.

(Photo: Michelle Ettlin)

Drummer and bandleader Tom Rainey isn’t stuck. He’s not jaded and doesn’t come across like he’s taking himself too seriously.

But what’s striking about his trio’s Combobulated—an album that occasionally sounds like vintage Sonic Youth improvising within the context of jazz’s upper echelon—is how free and enthusiastic the ensemble sounds.

The trio—which also includes guitarist Mary Halvorson and saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock—effortlessly bonds, seemingly in touch with the future of the genre, while displaying a clear understanding of what’s preceded it. This has nothing to do with age—though Rainey has credits that stretch back 40 years—just the band’s ability to summon new sounds that don’t seem forced or overwrought.

The tunes that constitute Combobulated were captured live during a September 2017 set at Firehouse 12 in New Haven, Connecticut. The recorded results surely met the bandleader’s goals, but he’s just as pleased with the company that he keeps.

“This band really found me,” Rainey said about the 10-year-old trio. “When Ingrid first moved here, I wanted to create more opportunities for us to play together. That motivated me to start leading a band, which I had done very sporadically in the past. Then we played with Mary, and there seemed to be something there that had potential to grow. So, I just said, ‘OK, I’ll make this my band.’”

The album’s title track, an 18-minute epic that begins Combobulated, opens with a light kick-drum-led roll, Laubrock quietly stirring the melody, while Halvorson supports her bandmates, shorn of ego. A few minutes into the track, the guitarist’s lines become a bit more complex, diverse and trebly.

“I also like the implication of being the opposite of ‘discombobulated,’” Rainey said about the album’s title. “Other than that, there’s no great meaning behind it. Like I said, I don’t put too much thought into it, but as a title track, it seemed to fit. I liked the sound of the word. It’s a made-up word, but everyone kind of gets it.”

The album’s third track, “Fact,” is an exhilarating, fast-paced experimental piece, a bit shrieky, but intriguingly so. Even as Rainey leads the band, he allows Halvorson and Laubrock ample space throughout to weave intricate riffs and quick, oscillating improvisations that intimate total freedom.

“I think we all feed off each other in that way,” Rainey said. “It seemed like overnight I went from being the youngest person in the band to always being the oldest person in the band. I’m not exactly sure when that happened, but it suddenly dawned on me that I was always playing with people who are younger than me.

“It wasn’t a conscious decision, but I felt like, ‘These guys are too old for me, so I need to go ahead and play with some younger talent.’ It seemed to go that way naturally. ... I probably would be a different person, let alone a different drummer if I was doing things the same way I did in 1985. I loved what I was doing in 1985, but I would find it really strange to recreate that over and over again.” DB

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