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Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Christoph Gallio, Dominic Lash, Mark Sanders – Live at Café Oto London (ezz-thetics, 2023)

By Nick Ostrum

Recorded live December 18, 2022, Live at Café Oto London is one of those live masterpieces. I am sure any night this trio played would be enrapturing. This one, however, just sounds special. It starts with energy. Christoph Gallio barks fat alto lines (evoking Brötzmann and late Coltrane albeit on a different horn) over the churning thrum that drummer Mark Sanders and bassist Dominic Lash lay beneath him, steeped in the free improv tradition that implies rhythm but only by abandoning it for sound on sound on sound. Then, space opens and things get really abstract. (Lash, for his part, has had one foot in minimalism as long as he has had one in free jazz.) The trio then lets this opening ride for a bit, adding some embellishing scrapes and rummaging, as Sanders and Lash take over.

Gallio rejoins, or at least steps to the front, in the second track, 'Wildlife-Part 2,' a continuation rather than clean break from 'Wildlife – Part 1.'  The energy and pluck are still there, though Gallio extends his notes just a little longer and Lash switches to arco. Sanders plays a little more quietly, but still with that cluttered clatter. 'Wildlife – Part 3' is the departure. This has more space, and a long droning bass backbone at first, but eventually falls into that the dexterous clunk and angularity that introduces the album. The two parts of Homelife meditate on a soft folky rhythm, harkening back to that Sonny-Rollins-on-a-bridge tradition, but with more haze, distortion and serration. Then, things start to build. Then, they tumble.

Live at Café Otois exceptional. It is some of the best tensile scorched-earth, time-warp 60s-rooted free improv that I have hear for a long while. This is all the more impressive given the intergenerational line-up, which pulls from a range of aesthetic backgrounds yet coheres around the same gravitational enter. Despite its many detours and divergences over the last half century, that center, that vivacious tradition of harnessing and directing force away from melody, harmony, tonalism, and be-bop plaiting, a style that braces the crag and stumble as a form in itself, is alive and well.

Live at Café Oto London is available as a digital download from Bandcamp and as a CD from choice music stores around the world. Take your pick.