“A free approach to the Great American Songbook”
By Monique Avakian
If there is a band to check out in 2013, this is IT.
I’m tempted to stop right there, or at least toss in a spoiler alert. Half the grand delight of listening to this album is the process of discovery as you uncover the multi-layered subtlety of this group’s free, beyond~interpretative stance. Another tasty slice of major happiness derives from recovering your relationship with some kick-ass standards through this visceral free improv. The Ellery Eskelin New York Trio II embodies the ideal of the avant aesthetic: forward movement, deeply rooted, and set free with honest emotion.
Overall, I would describe this trio as precise, kinesthetically supple and incredibly feline. You may not know they’re in the room until you feel their whiskers, but they already know all about you and everything you dreamed of before breakfast.
On this album, you’ll be treated to three musicians who take their respective instruments each and together into the wild and unexpected.
Gary Versace expresses feelings and thoughts with the Hammond B3 Organ in a way that is simply unprecedented. What a supercool style! During the first listen, I didn’t even know he was playing a B3; I thought he was playing multiple synthesizers and getting the sonic variety out of electronic dials and settings. In Versace’s words: (The organ is the) “first kind of real time synthesizer. You can change the sound as you’re playing, you can hold a note, there’s vibrato, there’s air moving through it…(and I can) change phrase lengths and chord lengths as I see fit.” (*)
Gerald Cleaver is one of those super highly evolved drummers who can play anything he needs to super soft. If you’ve ever been anywhere near a drum kit, you know how difficult that is. Cleaver takes this concept even further through his careful choices of not playing. Whoever heard of a drummer not playing ?!? Especially when you reach a technical level, like Cleaver, where you can pretty much play anything. You could learn a lot about musicianship by studying his choice of silence. In Cleaver’s words: “I try and swing and try to do the things that feel the best….the idea of swinging is one of connectedness and having a real affinity for the piece, whatever it is.” (*)
And Ellery Eskelin, ooooh! His work on the tenor sax (now playing a 1927 Conn.) is complex and experimental, yet completely engaging and intimate. Conceptually, he’s all about paradox and sparking wonder, and this is made all the more appealing due to his natural and relaxed fearlessness. Even though he can knock your socks off with rapid, inventive runs, he never runs all over you. His phrasing is intuitive and often subliminal. Ellery Eskelin brings you inside—DEEP into the living breath of sound.
As for playing live with the trio, in Eskelin’s words: “We know that there are probably six or eight tunes that we might incorporate in some way, without me prescribing any kind of a treatment or rules at all for how those may or may not happen. It’s simply a matter of real-time musical negotiation between us, listening very hard to each other.” (**)
The Midnight Sun
Like sparkles on water, sun and moon dance through threaded ideas traded with echoes. Some kind of unity forms from duality, and I am feeling the blazing sun late at night.
This trio achieves a sonic representation of emotional metaphor so central to the tune that at first listen I literally felt the sun and moon simultaneously appear without knowing anything about this song, including not having read the title – (! ! !) – I’m not making this up! The emotive quality engendered by the trio’s take on this lovely standard is completely involving. Wait a minute….is that stardust on my sleeve?!?!
This take on We See is like having déjà vu while simultaneously hallucinating inside a parallel universe. This version is out, yet NOT closed-off inside some phony fortress with a thousand doors locking you out. The Eskelin Trio is so open and inviting, even when the swing is sonically invisible, you feel it. And the Be-Bop confidence and rhythmic forcefulness are there, too, yet reached through the opposing sensibility of exaggerated pianissimos and small, subtle crescendos. Case in point: Versace gives that B3 ZAP chord every once in awhile, but he does this
* s * o * f * t * l * y * -- as if using volume itself to make a rhythmic statement (?!)
Live: Friday & Saturday, July 26th & 27th
at Cornelia Street Café (Reservations recommended)
Ellery Eskelin Trio New York: Interview
ELLERY ESKELIN Trio New York II
Can be purchased from instantjazz.com.