Before Mark Merella assembled his band, he assembled his drum kit — a hybrid arrangement that conjoined a kick, a snare, a hi-hat, a tom, some other cymbals, two conga drums and a box-shaped cajón. For a percussionist fluent in jazz and Afro-Cuban rhythms, it was a cool setup that allowed for plenty of snap and color. “At first, I was just working with that kit at home,” Merella says. “But once I started getting comfortable with it, I thought, ‘What would this sound like in a band?’ ”
To find out, he rang up two old friends: Matt Belzer, a saxophonist and the director of jazz studies at the University of Maryland at Baltimore, and Larry Melton, a bassist Merella has been jamming with since high school. Together, they named themselves the Anansi Trio and began working away at Belzer’s original compositions, as well as trim, locomotive covers of Ornette Coleman (“Turnaround”), Arthur Blythe (“Odessa”) and John Coltrane (“Africa”).
On the group’s debut album, “On the Path,” the sound is lean and clean, with just the right amount of breathing room — enough for Merella’s percussive gestures to provide “a melodic aspect, instead of just a groove function,” he says. But these three haven’t forgotten about the groove. If anything, their album is smartly titled. Whichever direction the music takes, it always feels like forward motion.
Shows: May 9 at 8 and 10 p.m. at Twins Jazz, 1344 U St. NW. $10.