Trio 3 + Geri Allen: At This Time (2009)
The publicity surrounding the release of At This Time is making much of the addition of a pianist to Trio 3's saxophone, bass and drums line-up. Arguably, however, the inclusion of a keyboard, played by Geri Allen, isn't the album's most significant feature. True, during the course of the group's 23-year history, most of its work has been piano-less. But its unofficial curtain-raiser, Synthesis (Leo, 1986), made under bassist Reggie Workman's name, featured pianist Marilyn Crispell alongside the trio of Workman, altoist Oliver Lake and drummer Andrew Cyrille. More recently, pianist Irene Schweizer augmented the line-up for Berne Concert (Intakt, 2007).
What is, perhaps, more significant here is the span of generations and outlooks embodied by the musicians. Workman and Cyrille were born within a couple of years of each other in the late 1930s and first came to notice among the avant-garde of the 1960s, Workman in bands led by saxophonist John Coltrane, Cyrille with pianist Cecil Taylor. Lake, born in 1944, is a few years older, but came up in a similar milieu, his playing heavily informed, at least initially, by radical 1960s reed player and occasional Coltrane collaborator Eric Dolphy. Those earlier guest pianists, Crispell (born 1947) and Schweitzer (born 1941), are of more or less the same generation.
Allen, relatively speaking, is the new kid on the block. Born in 1957, she was a child during the stylistic revolutions of the 1960s, and though she subsequently rewound her listening to absorb the icons of that era, she is firmly in the post-modern mould of more recent decades, her multi-faceted approach referencing an eclectic range of styles.
Allen's love of tunes and chord progressions, and her flowing rhapsodism, make her an imaginative choice of partner for Trio 3 and the meeting works marvelously. While they have substance, neither "All Net" and "Current," the duo of tracks halfway through the album whose intensity and abstraction are more characteristic of the trio's work, linger as long in the mind as other, more structured and mellifluous pieces. Allen's opener, "Swamini," begins and ends with the impressionistic arpeggios and cadenzas, finger cymbals and Eastern sonorities associated with pianist and harpist Alice Coltrane, to whom it is dedicated. Dolphy's faster, spikier "Gazzeloni," which follows, is more in the hue of pianist/composer Thelonious Monk, and Allen's centerpiece solo is full of Monkish note clusters and percussive emphases. "Lake's Jump" is a hard swinging, medium fast blues with throwaway references to the bop warhorse "Night In Tunisia" in its theme. At 8:25 it's the longest track and features solid in-the-tradition saxophone, piano and bass solos.
Lake switches to flute for Cyrille's slow drag "Tey," a refreshing solace just shy of six lovely minutes. And while Allen's closing "In The Realm Of The Child Of True Humanity Within" doesn't explicitly reference Alice Coltrane's playing, it is informed by her spirit. Moving from pretty to turbulent and back again, At This Time rings some engaging changes for Trio 3.
Track Listing: Swamini; Gazzeloni; For Patrick L.; All Net; Current; Lake's Jump; Long Melody; Tey; Barbara's Rainbow; In The Realm Of The Child Of True Humanity Within.
Personnel: Oliver Lake: alto saxophone (1-7, 9, 10), flute (8); Geri Allen: piano; Reggie Workman: bass; Andrew Cyrille: drums.