Barry Guy is a British bassist and founder of the London Jazz Composers Orchestra. On his latest album on the Intakt label he, fellow British drummer Paul Lytton and American pianist Marilyn Crispell explore the outer reaches of a style of music - free jazz - that deserves a wider hearing among the American public. Ithaca is a good place to start for the listener who has open ears for a more cutting-edge branch from the many styles of the modern jazz tree.
It is an adventurous disc. Unlike some free jazz, though, the music has form and focus. Inspired by modern painting and architecture, the three musicians play in a combustible, percussive style more rooted in European classical oriented "new music" than the blues and swing of American jazz.
Classically-trained, and turned on to jazz after hearing a John Coltrane record, Crispell was an integral part of the band of forward-thinking saxophonist Anthony Braxton. Like her idol Cecil Taylor, her piano style is marked by dense clusters and no small amount of dissonance.
The trio is adept in employing silence, especially on "Void," "Broken Silence,"and "Unfolding" creating a sense of anticipation in the listener. Clocking in at 10-minutes, on "Fire and Ice," the band continually switches from turbulent to tranquil in an instant. This is music where the players must carefully listen to one another or risk stepping over the cliff into a sea of chaos.
Ithaca is an enjoyable, if risk-taking disc that draws the listener into its web as three musicians try to push jazz into new frontiers. It is a good place to start for the jazz and "new music" lover who has big ears.