Click here to [close]

Thursday, February 8, 2024

John Blum, David Murray, Chad Taylor - The Recursive Tree (Relative Pitch, 2023)

By Nick Metzger

NYC pianist John Blum dropped one of my favorite albums in recent memory with 2020’s “Duplicity”, in a duo with the legendary drummer Jackson Krall. It was a welcome entry in the notoriously scrumptious - yet criminally scant - John Blum back-catalog, and now just a few years removed Relative Pitch releases this flamethrower, finding Blum in a trio with fellow legends and musical provocateurs David Murray and Chad Taylor. Before Duplicity Blum had been quiet on the releases front for the better part of a decade despite being extremely active in the scene, his prior releases being 2009’s solo Who Begat Eye and trio In the Shade of Sun with William Parker and the late Sunny Murray (an album released by Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace label). On that note, 2023 also saw the release of a third set of solo pieces titled Nine Rivers which captures a 2013 performance and came out on ESP-Disk earlier this Fall. If you’re a fan of Blum and/or like what you hear here, it’s a must buy. David Murray really needs no introduction, an NYC loft scene cornerstone who is now mentoring a new generation of jazz musicians from the Empire City, he’s played with just about everyone worth mentioning and has over 150 albums to his name. He sounds as fierce as ever here, always willing to push and go the extra distance, his style and tone all his own. And finally Chad Taylor, this generation’s answer to Billy Higgins. Taylor is almost beyond prolific, showing up both where you would and would least expect him to. He’s a marvelous and inventive drummer who brings an extra dimension to any record he’s on. With The Recursive Tree the trio lays down as good a piano-sax-drums album as you're likely to hear anywhere.

On the first track “Fire in the Branches” the trio erupts into motion, teeming with heavy gesticulation and fiery rhetoric. Blum’s playing is characteristically fleet with intricate,lightning-fast right hand runs and crushing chord blows. Murray growls and warbles within the framework set by the piano, filling in space but also constantly pushing to the edges. Taylor is incredible, his sense of swing and endless inventiveness multiplies the open-ended possibilities, making it conceivable for things to turn on a dime. On “Kinetic Crawl” Blum and Taylor establish a rolling rhythm that is in turns brutal and delicate, like lace from steel wire. Murray’s playing ranges from jagged and almost disjointed to smoothly flowing lines that subtly track the aggression in the rhythm. On “Passage” Taylor starts tentatively with an elementary beat that intensifies into a progression of metrical and timbral motions. Murray’s lines whip in and around the continuous eruption of notes from Blum. “Hidden Thorns” feels moody and agitated as the trio’s tentative start explodes into a rolling boogie (for those with the right kind of ears). Murray’s playing is almost vocal here, his runs replete with honks and yowls, situated within the extremely tight trappings of Blum and Taylor’s onslaught.

On “Monk’s Door” something proverbial manifests, as shards of bop scatter light across the proceedings. Much like a broken vase, the object can be discerned from fragments and remainders. “Germination” sizzles with light percussion before heavy piano and tenor surfaces. Though the piano propels the piece, Murray shares a tight and intricate dialogue with Blum throughout that provides lots of illumination and shadow. On the title track the trio play through a series of crescendos – rhythmic foundations serve as launching points for various lyrical (and otherwise) excursions. Murray gets downright ecstatic over some portions as the piano and drums chisel away at infinity. “Creatural” is a brief track where slight gestures are traded before longer stretches of exploration are undertaken. The piece feels conversational and balanced, dropping most of the jagged edges and striving instead for a metered and sustained dialogue. The album closes with “Fractals”, a smoking selection of high-octane free improvisation that makes no apologies for its raw enthusiasm. The trio stretches out and lets the music take them where it wants. Rhythms and melodies released are immediately left behind - it’s about the hunt here, not what’s for dinner. In their fervour everything is uprooted, overturned, inspected, and thrown aside – and the listener is left with substantial bounty.

Obviously, the Unit came to mind when listening to this album (the trio version), not just the instrumentation but also the rhythmic complexity and sudden shifts between intricacy and simplicity, calm seas and maelstrom. Blum was mentored by Taylor, so obviously something rubbed off, but I also hear Tyner, and Waldron, and some left-hand stride going on under all the tumult (as awesomely noted in the Bandcamp tags). The comparison is a testament to how well this group works together, this being their debut recording and you would never guess it. Absolutely brilliant album, listen closely and you will be rewarded.