Oliver Lake, Reggie Workman, Andrew Cyrille & Irene Schweizer: Trio 3 in Amsterdam
October 19, 2009
TRIO 3 (lake/workman/cyrille)comprises familiar faces on the European concert circuit. The group's earliest release was a concert appearance from the 1992 Swiss Willisau festival, and it has been making regular European tours ever since. Tonight Trio 3 appeared with Swiss pianist Irene Schweizer at Amsterdam's wonderful Bimhuis on the fourth date of a nine-venue European tour.
Each member has a storied back history boasting stints in some of the most influential and high profile avant jazz groups in the music. Bassist Reggie Workman's association with John Coltrane, drummer Andrew Cyrille's with Cecil Taylor, and saxophonist Oliver Lake's with the World Saxophone Quartet will be well known to AAJ readers. But each has also operated within the tradition, as did Cyrille with Mary Lou Williams and Workman with Gigi Gryce, Max Roach and Johnny Coles. The speaking voice in Lake's poem "Separation" memorably says "bring all my food at one time on the same plate" in reference to a desire to transcend boundaries and in his recognition of only "good" music. It could well be the credo for Trio 3 as a whole.
Schweizer's appearance with the group was intriguing. Although Trio 3 has shown an affinity for guest pianists, with previous encounters featuring Andrew Hilland Geri Allen, the Swiss pianist comes from a very different background. One of the first generation of European free players, Schweizer is perhaps best known for her contributions to the improvising collective Les Diaboliques, with Joelle Leandre and Maggie Nichols, and her collaborations with Barry Guy's London Jazz Composers Orchestra. In fact, Cyrille's partnership with Schweizer dates back to at least 1988, though Trio 3 as a group first hooked up with her in 2007, perhaps a consequence of their shared tenure on the Swiss Intakt label. Two concerts at Zurich and Berne ensued, with the latter so successful that plans to record a studio date were abandoned and the concert performance released as the extraordinary Berne Concert (Intakt, 2009).
In spite of the challenge of integrating herself with three titanic personalities and, moreover, their strong group identity, Schweizer slotted into Trio 3 as if she had always belonged. Together they navigated twelve pieces, including an encore, in a well-paced and varied program totaling some 100 minutes over two sets. Democratic intent was signaled by a band book of distinctive and stretching compositions from the pens of all three constituent members, one of the numbers even credited to the pianist.
Leaping in at full tilt, a spirited rendition of Lake's "Float," which also opens the Berne CD, made for an uncompromising start to the first set. As the brisk theme quickly gave way to an enthralling four way improvisation, Lake added a vocalized edge to his sour-sweet alto saxophone, while Workman plied contrapuntal lines against Schweizer's stiff-fingered jabs, all over Cyrille's constant polyrhythmic rumble. All the factors which combine to make Trio 3 such a cohesive collective were in evidence: an elastic approach to time; an asymmetrical approach to sound whereby timbre and texture are the equal of harmonic consonance; and the depth of what was extemporaneous, seat-of-the-pants interplay among the threeor in this case, four musicians.
At their best they entirely subverted the sound and approach normally expected from a saxophone-plus-rhythm section configuration. Their version of "Encounter," by late clarinetist John Carter, which came midway through the first set, was instructive. It provided a marked contrast to the relatively straightforward reading given the tune when it first appeared in their repertoire as the title track on Encounter (Passin' Thru Records, 2000). Initially the defining riff was almost inaudible, but Workman gradually increased the volume and intensity. Schweizer added a locomotive piano counter riff, then Cyrille clip-clopped on the shells of his drums, creating a shifting backcloth of multiple tempos, over which Lake parlayed the slow spare alto theme. By the time the reedman's squealing interlude had ended, the whole band was dealing in semi-abstraction, with Workman having left the riff long ago to keep in touch with Cyrille's free pulse and Schweizer's fragmented lines. Only towards the end did Workman return to the riff prior to a gradual descent into silence.