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Wednesday, March 16, 2022

The Urge Trio – Live in St. Petersburg (Veto records, 2021) ****

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

Even though I’m familiar with the work of Keefe Jackson, Tomeka Reid and Christoph Erb, this is my first encounter with the music of The Urge Trio. Pity, please, the poor reviewer who, with so much music out there, missed the first two releases by this great improvisational trio. Check the other two on the Veto Records bandcamp, you will like what’s there. Tomeka Reid is on cello, Christoph Erb on soprano and tenor saxophone and Keefe Jackson on tenor and sopranino sax and bass clarinet.

As you can clearly read, the Urge Trio takes some significant risks by trying on an alternate instrumentation then the usual of jazz based musics. But is this really a jazz recording? I really do not know and I’m positive it doesn’t matter. This decision leaves enough room for them to, willingly, decide which way to go without some (or many) of the restraints of jazz tradition. This is a freedom won for all three. You can agree on this by listening to other recordings of theirs and, surely, by listening to this live recording.

The three tracks that comprise it (clocking in just over forty minutes) were recorded live in St. Petersburg five years ago. Yes, I know, it sounds like a century ago. I won’t go on making comparisons with their previous work as a trio, since I very recently listened to those. What any listener (and most probably any fan) of improvised music will immediately find enjoying is the amount of freedom and camaraderie you find on all tracks.

It certainly seems that their instruments of choice provide with strong advantages: flexible playing, as they are ready to change direction anytime. But I might be doing them wrong here. It’s not just the instruments of choice that allow them enough room for artistic freedom of expression. It’s their choices on how to act, play and react that makes this live recording such a vibrant, energetic and full of changes affair.

The more I listen to this download only recording, the more I realize that, yes, actually it is jazz. But given the fact that jazz nowadays has evolved into a big tree with so many different branches that take different forms, this is one of jazz’s manifestations for the 21st century. Stating things like the aforementioned, one must never forget that also the past is always around. This live gig was recorded at a community center which, many decades ago, was the workshop of Mikhail Anikushin, one of the Soviet sculptors that tried to catch (in full propaganda mode) the greatness of the October Revolution through his work. Listening on and on those three tracks you realize that the three of them, decided to go the opposite way here. They are about and after small gestures, a less is more approach.

Which is more radical? A very difficult question, one with no definite answer, even though another great Russian, the author Boris Pasternak, has provided the best answer for. The most valuable of all, I believe, is not the answers, but the questions themselves. And these three tracks contain a lot of them.



Gary Chapin said...

I love this group and this record. I've been obsessing about Tomeka Reed's playing lately. Good review, thanks,