The number of piano/reeds/percussion trios in the history of improvised music can probably be counted on a single hand, but some of them have been highly influential. Cecil Taylor's trio recorded such a set in 1962 at the Café Montmartre in Copenhagen, the entrée into free percussion beginning with Sunny Murray's fragmented bebop impulsions as Taylor and alto foil Jimmy Lyons expanded upon Bud and Bird, even as tradition became so much mincemeat. Saxophonist Evan Parker, pianist Alex von Schlippenbach and percussionist Paul Lovens expanded on the format in an often brutal but utterly sublime approach to collective musical craftsmanship. This cooperative is still recording, as it has since 1972 on FMP and Leo. Into this lineage fits the fascinating but decidedly ad hoc trio of New York-born pianist Borah Bergman, English soprano saxophonist Lol Coxhill and percussionist Paul Hession.
In the annals of free improvisation, there really isn't a parallel for the way the Bergman/Coxhill/Hession trio feels. Though Coxhill's soprano multiphonics and circular breathing do, at their most vicious, suggest his countryman Evan Parker, his senses of spacing and phraseology are more akin to Steve Lacy in their delicate surefootedness. Whereas some time ago a Coxhill date suggested whimsical experimentation, his work here is as direct and powerful a series of statements as you're likely to hear in free improvisation (one can't forget he was, however briefly, a member of the Brotherhood of Breath).
Bergman is utterly romantic, pure of tone and has an uncanny ability to let his notes hang without histrionics, while Hession creates a roiling, lickety-split tumult of accent and activity underneath and around his compatriots. Hession's approach at times recalls Milford ("110 ) and at other times Murray, an intricate web of free-time brushwork and spare curlicue that erupt into a pan-rhythmic tidal wave with little provocation; his duo with Wuppertal saxophonist Hans-Peter Hiby (The Real Case, Senti 1988) is another gem.
The trio surges with trills, scattershot and rollicking chords from the get-go, Bergman's erudite classicism and blocky ragtime references melding perfectly with agitated bird calls and unbroken rhythmic chatter, halting on a nearly unaccompanied piano solo with scraped cymbal backing. On "102, halting chirps and rhythmic play from Coxhill and Bergman become mirrored sentiments as Hession builds a shadow play of tension underneathonly to drop out halfway through. Despite the seeming hub of urbane activity he's prone to, Hession's interplay is subtle but direct enough to be noticeable when absent.
This is not a record solely of rigour, howeverthe playful collusion between Coxhill and Bergman on "103 is just that, and Coxhill appropriates a hackneyed pop-song phrase in "101 that sticks out like a cockeyed sore thumb halfway in. Acts of Love is a record of balance and power, but the trio knows its repertoire and where to stretch it most. Hopefully this disc is not a one-time meeting.
Personnel: Borah Bergman: piano; Lol Coxhill: soprano saxophone; Paul Hession: percussion.