Tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin just keeps getting better. On this disc he explores some of the music that has mattered to him over the years, and it's a wide range: from Mahavishnu John McLaughlin's "The Dance of Maya" through Coltrane's "India," Lennie Tristano's "April," and even George Gershwin's "Prelude II." In the liner notes Eskelin says, "I've never been one for genre hopping or jump cutting for its own sake, however. I'm more interested in the effect that various textures or ideas that occupy a short unit of space have on the overall shape of a phrase or composition."
Textures is the key word, for all of these pieces are simultaneously unified and thoroughly reconstituted by the unusual and enormously effective instrumentation of this trio: tenor saxophone plus accordion and/or sampler, and percussion. Andrea Parkins on accordion and sampler stands in for the electric bombast of the Mahavishnu piece, sacrificing none of the power of the tune but transplanting it from its time and place and, in the grand tradition of Ezra Pound's exhortation, making it new.
Then more textural shifts. Eskelin glides through Tristano's "April" unaccompanied for nearly three minutes, before the other two join in to give it an amiable music hall veneer - but then Parkins, on the perhaps unlikely instrument of accordion, gives Eskelin a run for his money as she both comps and duels with the soloist a Black kicks it into high gear. On "India" there appears a ruminative piano (or a sample of a piano?) that soon transmogrifies into something more ecclesiastical and then into space dust - but where is "India"? It doesn't emerge for some time, but when it does, it continues the same restless vein of constructing and deconstructing.
And so it is throughout this disc - even Eskelin's originals, "Cause and Effect" and "Ways and Means," are texturally rich and shifting. No mere tribute album, this is a testimony not only to the musical imaginations of Eskelin and his mates, but to the continued vitality of improvised music when old standards are revisited not just to be slavishly recreated. Don't miss this glorious vertigo.
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Ellery Eskelin, ts; Andrea Parkins, acc, sampler; Jim Black, perc.