Jim Black: One Great Night...Live; Houseplant & Kyrill
Ellery Eskelin/Andrea Parkins/Jim Black
Jim Black's AlasNoAxis
For almost 15 years, drummer Jim Black's approach has augmented a jazz sensibility with occasional (and often jarring) inquiries into the sonic territory of heavier drumming styles that are the signature of the Northwestern experimental rock bands or, on the other extreme, buoyantly fluid compound metric elements borrowed from Eastern Europe.
Of the many compelling modern groups that emerged from the downtown scene in the '90s, perhaps the most persistent enterprise has come from the trio of Ellery Eskelin, Andrea Parkins and Black. One Great Night... Live is their first live document, recorded at Towson University (Eskelin's alma mater) following a European tour. Whether operating in a tight pocket or expanding into loose abstraction, the band is in constant communication. The set opens with "The Decider," Eskelin setting the mood, the band falling into a driving rhythmic motif that seems constantly to take on new shapes. Ten minutes later, the band has dissolved into a microscopic sound world, with a final brief melody serving as a bit of a cliffhanger. Parkins' sampler and odd keyboard sounds make an appearance on "For No Good Reason" and "Coordinated Universal Time," the latter careening through a thicket of fragmented time feels and jazz organ. "Split the Difference" recalls hard bop, albeit almost absurdly reconfigured.
Houseplant continues to refine the rock-influenced sound initially laid out on AlasNoAxis' first records for Winter & Winter. Just as the slightly deranged childlike artwork of Yoshitomo Nara adorns each disc, Black's compositions imply a rich fantasy life full of sentimentality and introspection. Guitarist Hilmar Jensson provides a vast array of evocative hues, while bassist Skuli Sverrisson and saxophonist Chris Speed both bring Black's thoughtful compositions to life with enthusiasm and skill. AlasNoAxis has made a home at the intersection between improvised music's emotive instrumental possibilities and rock's relationship between sonic detail and intimate listening experience. From subdued moments like the title track or "Elight" to forceful pieces like "Malomice" or "Cadmium Waits," the group's longstanding association is clearly a key factor.
Pianist Achim Kaufmann's Kyrill features Jim Black and bassist Valdi Kolli in a trio format. "Dewey Redman" recalls its namesake, maintaining mid-tempo feel while the instrumental gestures spill forward with enthusiasm, but without abandoning the constructs laid out in the beginning. Kaufmann's music maintains an assured coolness throughout a variety of textures and feels and the band preserves a constant focus on specific intents, rather than inviting every new gesture to suggest a radical departure. Kaufmann's solo pieces, "Scarine" and "Slow Roundabout," are both highly exploratory, while the expository gestures always stay in the foreground as the material develops.
Tracks and Personnel
One Great Night...Live
Tracks: For No Good Reason; The Decider; Coordinated Universal Time; Split The Difference; Instant Counterpoint; I Should Have Known; Half A Chance.
Personnel: Ellery Eskelin: tenor saxophone; Andrea Parkins: accordion, electric piano, organ, laptop sampler and grand piano; Jim Black: drums and percussion.
Tracks: Inkionos; Cahme; Houseplant; Fyr; Malomice; Littel; Elight; Naluch; Cadmium Waits; Adbear; Lowers In A Nine Sense; Downstrum.
Personnel: Chris Speed: tenor saxophone; Hilmar Jensson: guitars; Skúli Sverrisson: basses; Jim Black: drums, laptop.
Tracks: Linjanje; Slow Roundabout; Ensormasque; Dewey Redman; Misha Antlers; Scarine; Imbo; Dorobo; Blue-Brailled; Stanley Park.
Personnel: Achim Kaufmann: piano; Valdi Kolli: bass; Jim Black: drums.