Like what's being done by many creative musicians today, including Kenny Wheeler, Bill Frisell, and Brian Blade's Fellowship, the music and approach on Lingua Franca are better described as searching than the more common burning. Peter Epstein, Brad Shepik, and Matt Kilmer trade more in water than fire. This is not a value judgement, just a shift of intent and perspective. Though rooted in the jazz aesthetics of improvisation and group interaction, Lingua Franca is not jazz with a capital "J." Imagine the Lovano/Frisell/Motian trio playing a mix of jazz/world/folk tunes instead of standards and avant-garde music.
The first track is the ringer. "Two Door" is the kind of tune that stays with you for weeks after your first spin, and you want to hear it again and again. It contains much of what makes the entire CD so enjoyable and interesting: Eastern-influenced melodies and harmony, shades of the blues, splitting the difference between simple and complex, and often between light and dark. The piece occasionally recalls (somewhat obliquely) parts of the Doors' epic song "The End" (with much of the darkness removed), which scores the opening bombing sequence of Apocalypse Now. Imagine the Republican Party's spin machine (instead of Coppola) re-cutting and scoring Apocalypse Now Redux to give the war a slightly "lighter" feeling, and this tune would be a good choice to replace "The End."
Drones, vamps, odd time signatures, and open sections are used throughout the record to create spaces that encourage interaction. While the music mainly follows a head-solo-head form, the players' engagement with one another makes the improvisations feel less like traditional "solos."
Shepik plays mostly electric guitar and his tone reflects his style: crisp and warm, relatively straight and simple. Never overbearing in his use of effects (unobtrusive octaver, reverb, occasional overdub), Shepik often plays simply but never simplistically. He's particularly sensitive and succinct on his own compositions, "Two Door" and the beautiful, folksy ballad "Emerald."
Matt Kilmer is a mindful, melodic, and creative percussionist. In this bass-less trio, he's able to take on the added responsibilty of being the main timekeeper without giving up his role as colorist and shaper of space. His developement of assured pulses and deep grooves that are both comfortable and challenging provide perfect canvases for Epstein and Shepik to explore.
Epstein's tone on alto is warm and singing. While it's nearly devoid of Western jazz cliches, it's apparent that he's gone through all that stuff. He's just digested it and put it back out through a personal musical prism. While Epstein could be considered the leader (it's debatable and not altogether relevant), this is a truly democratic trio. Shepik's writing is the strongest, and while different instruments could be substituted for guitar or saxophone, without Kilmer's varied skills/vibes/sound sources, this recording could not work. Like many excellent recordings, the first time you hear Lingua Franca you're impressed. Every time after that just gets better.
Personnel: Peter Epstein: alto and soprano saxophone; Brad Shepik: guitars; Matt Kilmer: percussion.