CAMBRIDGE -- The mi3 is a piano trio of a different color. Pandelis Karayorgis usually performs on acoustic piano, but in the mi3 he plays a Fender Rhodes electric keyboard using wah-wah and distortion pedals. The result by turn resembles organ, guitar, and science-fiction sound effects. Yet the mi3 is deeply rooted in the adventurous jazz piano tradition that is Karayorgis's metier.
Sunday night at the Zeitgeist Gallery, the trio featured not only Karayorgis's knotty compositions but also several lesser-known tunes by Thelonious Monk, as well as two by Hasaan Ibn Ali , a shadowy figure who recorded a single album in the mid-1960s under the auspices of drum legend Max Roach.
The loose-limbed and inventive drumming of Curt Newton and the agile, warm-toned acoustic bass playing of Nate McBride are essential to the mi3 sound. Colleagues for almost two decades, these three musicians are masters of give and take, with the ability to establish a deep swinging groove or float freely.
Karayorgis's loping "Betwixt" featured squelchy, distorted Rhodes and McBride's dancing bass. An as-yet-untitled Karayorgis number was both angular and blurry, underlined by Newton's lurching drums.
The trio played Monk's "Green Chimneys" with a meaty swing. McBride's bass statement built to a solo reprise of the theme, leading to a rolling Newton solo. Monk's music dominated the set, which included a brief, lush version of his ballad "Blue Light," a roller-coaster take on his early bebop number "Humph," and a strolling "Brake's Sake" as an encore.
With the addition of the evening's two Hasaan tunes, McBride observed, the mi3 now has all of his recorded compositions in its repertoire. "Pay Not, Play Not" alternates double-time and relaxed episodes, and the trio had a field day running its obstacle course. "Off My Back Jack" began with bowed bass and lush swaths of color from Karayorgis, whose bell-toned solo kept returning to the tune's haunting first phrase.
Opening and almost stealing the show was a set by the duo of saxophonist Charlie Kohlhase and virtuosic trombonist Jeff Galindo. Playing Kohlhase's compositions, the two ran the gamut of horn timbres and duo strategies in an exhilarating and witty game of musical cat-and-mouse.