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Monday, December 18, 2023

Pyramid Trio - Visitation Of Spirits (NoBusiness, 2023)

By Stef Gijssels

The late Roy Campbell has always been one of my favourite trumpet players: soulful, free, creative, and most bands in which he performed offered music of exceptional and boundary-breaking quality. I'm a big fan of all "Other Dimensions in Music" albums, of the "Nu Band", and also of his collaborations with Jemeel Moondoc, Ehran Elisha, Matthew Shipp, William Hooker, William Parker, and many more. But he also had his own ensembles, including some trio albums, of which the Pyramid Trio is the most formal band, with William Parker on bass, and Zen Matsuura on drums, except on their first album "Communion" (1994) on which Reggie Nicholson plays the kit. The other two albums are "Ancestral Homeland" (1998) and "Ethnic Stew And Brew" (2001), and all three albums are easy to recommend. 

It's again an incredible treat to have this even older recording suddenly available, with a great thanks to the NoBusiness label for having released it again. The album gives a performance recorded on the 21 February 1985 at The Joint, Usdan Student Center, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA, and has actually been circulating for many years as a bootleg that was aired on WBR FM community radio. Now that it's official, it will hopefully get better visibility to even a broader audience. Because of the radio performance, the recording quality is absolutely excellent, and thus far from the usual bootleg material. Roy Campbell passed away on January 9, 2014, and that's almost ten years ago, which is hard to believe. Zen Matsuura passed away on September 19, 2015. This makes this album even more valuable. 

Campbell's music is strongly rooted in free bop, with great and jubilant themes setting the scene for long improvisations, coming again to a closing with the themes. Campbell says about his own music in an interview: "I don’t write any one particular style. I incorporate whatever I’m feeling or whatever I hear from wherever the music’s coming through from and just put something together.

Everything between the beginning and the end is open for improvised parts by all three musicians, and preferably all together. Four of the five tracks will become material on later albums by Campbell: "Charmaine" on 'La Tierra Del Fuego" (1994), "Imhotep" on "Ethnic Stew & Brew" (2001), "Vigilance" on "Communion (1994), and "Brother Yusef" on 'Ancestral Homelands" (1998). Only the last track, equally with an infectious theme, is less easy to identify, even if it sounds familiar (I've racked my brain and memory over this, listening to many albums again, and even used Shazam, but to no avail). 

In any case, this is a great and fun album. There a few minor weaknesses, such as at times the transition from improvisation back to the core theme, and I must say that at times Matsuura could have been a little more subtle, but that's a purely personal appreciation. 

Campbell also shares this reflection on his music: "The rule in the inner circle of musicians is that the visitation of spirits always supersedes music theory. The players, if open to this agenda, can form a relationship with their higher self. The only concept is love and compassion for all human beings. All great musicians follow the spirit to tap into the unknown without trying to own it."

To his credit, all his music is deeply soulful, uplifting and moving. This album is no different. 

"All great musicians follow the spirit to tap into the unknown without trying to own it."

Listen and download from Bandcamp