In any creative venture, the combination of skill and craft is going to be largely responsible for success or failure. While skills are the nuts and bolts knowhow and technique of a given task, the craft is the ability to synthesize those skills and cater them to meet various objectives. A novelist might be a master of grammar but that means nothing without the ability to create meaningful characters and stories. Such is the case for musicians. While it takes time to build skill with an instrument or voice and there are methods to follow, honing craft in music is a much more difficult, not to mention subjective venture. The best music is that which masks skill in the mastery of craft, making it look or sound easy. The London-based group Nugget Trio has shown an abundance of talent on their debut Watercolour EP but will hopefully continue to improve their craft as they move forward.
From the opening notes of the EP’s first track, “Nugget Jr.,” the skills of guitarist Julien Baraness, bassist Alex Lofoco, and drummer Jaime Murray are on display and they are impressive. The three gel like they have been playing together for decades, a testament to their clear dedication to practice. When they lay into a groove they are in complete lockstep, sounding like a singular instrument, and when each player gets his moment in the spotlight as they do on “Nugget Jr.,” each proves his own individual worth. Their compositional techniques and frequent lack of signature melodies are such that we are often lulled into a feeling that the music is all improvised, but then all of a sudden they will converge on an orchestrated figure or change in mood on a dime. While us listeners are left wondering what will come next, it’s easy to imagine the musicians flashing a wink in our direction.
While the sprawling nature of the compositions throughout the EP are often intellectually stimulating and showcase the Nugget Trio’s immense talents, they don’t give us much of a sense of continuity. The changes in feel often seem arbitrary and the music rarely settles on a unified theme. Music is all about tension and release, and there’s not a whole lot of release here. The Nugget Trio obviously has the talent and cohesion as a group to achieve most musical tasks they would try for, and their myriad ideas are each exciting on their own, but the music might be more endearing if they focus on fewer ideas and expanding on those in creative ways.
The songs “Fairfax Pickup,” “Cheese Meister,” and “Two’s a Crowd” continue much in the same fashion as the opener, traveling through various mid to up-tempo grooves and solos, often bridging the divide between the worlds of jazz and rock. The song that perhaps sticks out from the rest though, is the (initially) laid back “Badboy.0.” Aside from the obvious decrease in tempo, the song also takes a more ballad-style compositional approach, relying more on harmony and some melody as opposed to grooves. It seems as though there was some indecision as to whether the song should be a full-fledged ballad or another jam-infused track, as it bounces between the two styles, but overall, it’s a tasteful display of musicianship.
Depending on opinion and perspective, some might argue that the Nugget Trio’s intentions are focused more on unhindered musical expression and execution and less on concise, memorable songwriting, and therefore with those goals, Watercolour is an unbridled success. These are the elements in music that will divide people for generations to come. What cannot be debated with Watercolour is that Baraness, Lofoco, and Murray have enormous musical talent and their bond is an impressive force. With their abundant skills, they can take their craft in any direction they please.