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Friday, November 27, 2009

Lotte Anker, Craig Taborn, Gerald Cleaver - Floating Islands (Ilk, 2009) *****

One great album in a decade is an achievement, two great albums in one year is exceptional, yet this trio with saxophonist Lotte Anker, pianist Craig Taborn and drummer Gerald Cleaver does it. After "Live At The Loft", published earlier this year, also on Ilk, the trio is back with a new studio album. Anker also figures on the excellent "Mokuto" album. Cleaver participated in the equally great "Farmers By Nature" with Craig Taborn, and on Miroslav Vitous' "Remembering Weather Report".

This is the third album by the trio, and they get better with each release.

The album starts with repetitive prhases on the saxophone, built around a single tonal center, accompanied by muted minimal drumming by Cleaver, soon to be joined by the piano, setting the tone for pure musical hypnotism. Anker keeps building the tension by slightly altering the tone and the pitch, leaving the foreground to the piano, equally soft and minimal, but she keeps the sax present, barely audible, with Cleaver maintaining his muted rumbling sounds, Taborn keeping the attention going, but then after a while the sax resurfaces, slowly moaning, fragile and vulnerable, full of soaring lyricism, then the volume builds, Cleaver gets his sticks out, Taborn uses his left hand for some more powerful chords, and the composition shifts seamlessly into the sixteen minute long second track "Ritual", with intensity and tension building and growing, at a slow and wonderful pace, full of restraint and passion, mesmerizing and trance-inducing, with the rhythm becoming more angular, with the piano pounding chords, the drums kicking and the sax keeping up its wailing, screaming, full-toned howling, with the rhythm shifting underneath, falling in step, moving away again, and when you think this must end, well,... it just doesn't, the power increases, the volume increases, the tension increases, ... mad, mindless, repetitive, full throttle, the piano goes haywire, the drums go nuts, and then the sax reduces its pitch, and the rhythm changes again, odd-metered, with only piano and drums hammering on without the sax, increasing the tempo, dominating the scence, and then, out of nowhere,  the sax is back again, for another round of heart-rending, gut-wrenching high-pitched wailing, only to end with the piano turning the music out of the storm into quiet waters, full of impressionistic sophistication, moving into the third piece, "Transitory Blossom", on which Anker's sound is again as sensitive as it gets, soft and fragile, evoking the temporariness of things, with almost romantic piano, and again the piece flows as one into "Backwards River", more wayward, more avant-garde, with staccato playing by all three instruments, yet adapting quite rapidly to each other while shifting the piece together towards different musical territory, more nervous, full of wild agitation, with currents and counter-currents played by Taborn on his keys, with Cleaver going berserk at the drumkit, and when their double violence reaches the relentless power of high-speed rapids, the sax joins to add her slice of mayhem to the rhythm section pandemonium, with squeals, shouts, and howls, on and on and on, but things do come to an end, and the the piece suddenly slows down into a jumpy rhythm, unwillingly almost, but the sax goes, the piano goes, the drum stays, leading out and leading in the last track, "Even Today I'm Still Arriving", as if the river reaches the ocean, with the sax sounding like seagulls, then the sax plays solo, melodic, lyrical, yet weird in a way, and also beautiful, sensitive, with the piano adding sad minimalistic and impressionistic tones, calm and measured, with Anker adding some sparse notes, not many, but with a stunning emotional depth.

This album has it all : the mastership, the skills, the balance, the musical baggage to draw from, the musical vision, the coherent delivery, the variation, the adventure, the passion, the discipline, the raw emotional power, the sophistication, .... Absolutely stunning.

Buy from Instantjazz.

Listen and download from eMusic.

© stef


Mossburg said...

Thanks, great music !
You can listen this album for free on Deezer: (In France anyway ...)

cecile said...

totally agree with you !!
i like your review, the way you follow the music without any point, and the ambivalent feeling you reveal about listening to this trio.
I am also trying to write something about it (in french!), and thinking about madness or magical ritual or something like that...