Ellery Eskelin: Forms (2004)
In sixteen years of recording, Ellery Eskelin has focused much of his work on the trio. From Joey Baron’s unusual sax-bone-drum combo Baron Down (with Steve Swell on trombone) to his own bands (notably his trio with Andrea Parkins and Jim Black, which is marking its tenth anniversary this year), the three-piece has served Eskelin well. But even on his excellent Gene Ammons tribute The Sun Died (Soul Note, 1996) Eskelin sidestepped the traditional sax-bass-drum lineup, employing guitarist Marc Ribot instead of a bassist.
Maybe that’s because he covered the traditional sax trio ground in a swoop or two with his first recording outfit. The 1990 release Forms, originally on Sound Minds and now reissued by Hatology, could be taken as a fast exhaustion of the Sonny Rollins lineup. The song titles suggest a sort of overview, opening with “Blues” and working through “Ballads,” “Latin,” “Bebop,” and “In Three” and, for good measure, a Duke Ellington composition, the oft-overlooked “African Flower.” It’s no rote recital, however; the band isn’t merely playing by the numbers. The performances are confident and heartfelt, and Eskelin’s tenor sounds great against the rhythm section of Drew Gress and Phil Haynes.
The reductivist approach to Forms carries a certain logic, following Setting the Standard, their first (and only other) recording, released by Cadence and yet to be put out on CD. First they worked through a set of standards, then they boiled it down to style. Eskelin has grown in the ensuing years, and he sounds better on the nine discs he went on to record for Hat. But the typical has become unusual for Eskelin, and Forms fulfills function.
This review originally appeared in AllAboutJazz-New York .
Track Listing: 1. Blues (Eskelin) 8:19 2. In Three (Eskelin) 8:49 3. Ballad (Eskelin) 10:28 4. Latin (Eskelin) 9:16 5. Fleurette Africaine (Eskelin) 10:31 6. Vignettes (Eskelin) 10:40 7. Bebop (Eskelin) 4:20
Personnel: Ellery Eskelin - tenor saxophone Drew Gress - bass Phil Haynes - drums