There's a tremendous amount of ambivalence about the Atavistic labelall at once a paragon of progressivism, championing a rich legacy of forward-thinking free music, and among the foremost agents in the historicizing of free jazz. The atavism here suggests much more than an earlier, more primal passion; there is, more crucially, the sting of old processes at work, embalming the new and unfamiliar.
It's particularly heartening, then, when an album like Almanac rears its head. The Out Trios series, meant to team up improvisers of different backgrounds in unusual, often unlikely contexts, has been a mixed success; it's a sink or swim endeavor, and the less capable musician is often lost in the fray. This release, featuring singer/songwriter Geoff Farina, experimental drummer Luther Gray, and frequent Joe Morris sideman Nate McBride, is a weird, shambling, beautiful monster. Though thoroughly grounded in a sense of tradition, this combination articulates a sense of boundlessness and adventure that marks only the finest musical endeavors. The spirit here, ultimately, transcends the corpse.
The ensemble is invested in its flaws, and the recording seems freer and more organic for it. There are lots of beats missed, but the trio immerses itself in the challenge of achieving a greater sympathy. Farina is the conscious heart of the improvisations, coaxing scrapes and yawns from his instrument with an almost shamanistic grace. Luther Gray's mercurial, pulsating rhythmsgrounded in jazz "swing" and the chattering accents of a bop drummerare the ensemble's saving grace, reigning in moments of torpor with a subtle enthusiasm. McBride, the most sluggish of the voices, is also the most interesting to follow; his hard, ruddy tone is particularly uncompromising, the pivot piece that, when in action, sets everything in place.
When music of this nature succeeds, and with so much stacked against it, it's difficult to begrudge the indulgence of joy. If it must happen, it should happen like this: a sound in spite of itself.
Personnel: Geoff Farina: electric guitar; Luther Gray: drums; Nate McBride: acoustic bass.