British pianist Gordon Beck is simply not as well known here in the States as he should be, given his long and fruitful career, and hopefully this reissue of a 1972 release on the Italian Dire label will help set that right. The propulsive rhythm section of what at that time constituted the Phil Woods Rhythm Machine gets two extended workouts, all recorded in one morning while on a European tour.
It would be fine to cite Bill Evans as a major influence on Beck, but that would be selling him short. The breadth and diversity of ground covered in this session is astounding, from gorgeous post-bop flurries to sparse and razor-sharp, post-Webernian, pointillistic free jazz. None of this should come as any surprise, since Beck previously worked with the irrepressible timbral powerhouse drummer Tony Oxley. In other hands, such forays into experimentation might come off as mere flirtations, but the trio is obviously so comfortable with every gesture, composed or otherwise, that the album coheres beautifully and seamlessly.
About halfway through the first track, when traveling freer terrain, Daniel Humair's brushwork is complemented beautifully by Ron Mathewson's effortless fast slides and runs on bass. Eventually, Beck can be found inside the piano, Humair and Mathewson bowing and scraping along with him. The second track has a similar blueprint, except that Humair takes a driving solo that quickly turns funky, and everyone follows suit with alacrity.
My only complaint is with the recording itself, which sounds rather pinched. Presumably everything possible was done to make it sound fresh, and this is a minor point relative to the fantastic music. Art of Life has cemented its commitment to Beck's work even further with this reissue, and the label should be congratulated for putting such a fine disc back into circulation.
Personnel: Gordon Beck: piano; Ron Mathewson: acoustic bass; Daniel Humair: drums.