Roy Campbell's Pyramid Trio: Ethnic Stew and Brew
Saxophone trios rounded out by bass and drums are a regularity in creative improvised music. Strangely, trios led by trumpet are a comparatively rare occurrence. The reasons behind the disparity are debatable but may have something to do with the perceived difficulties in timbre and range sometimes attached to brass instruments. Where the adroit brass player can often effectively out lap his reed counterpart is in the area of tonal and textural variation. Roy Campbell is especially adept in this area, able to coax a rich plurality of voices and sounds from the bell of his horn. His two partners in this incarnation of the Pyramid Trio are similarly regarded for their skill at producing broad tonal ranges and dynamics from their respective instruments.
Campbell has been helming the Pyramid Trio as a flagship for his improvisatory craftsmanship for several decades. Parker’s handled the bass end from the beginning, but the drum slot has shifted between several men including Zen Matsuura and Reggie Nicholson. Hamid Drake is the latest conscript and in many ways the most suited to date in terms of the fluctuating thematic centers Campbell creates for the group. Parker and Drake’s association may be less long standing, but considering the sorts of sagacious grooves the pair can scare up in tandem their relationship is far from superficial. The rhythmic push on “Malcom, Martin and Mandela” is an early example of the pair’s uncanny agreement as they conjure up the kind of loping emancipatory groove that unlocks the hips, knees and ankles and refuses to retreat until all are set in soulful motion. Parker sounds positively huge, his cord-like strings filling up the cracks, and Campbell seems secure from the opening sounding sassy smears that Drake’s muscular backbeats eddy around.
“Impressions of Yokohama” allows Parker to indulge in area that he’s shown increasing interest in, Eastern wind instruments. In this case it’s Japanese shakuhachi flute and his swirling vaporous lines form the focus of the piece’s preface before he switches to thrumming bass and the momentum rises on Drake’s perfectly pitched drums. Parker’s near legendary arco technique is also afforded ample space, as on his bowed stretch for “Imhotep” where rich mahogany tones dance around a rigorous rhythmic core setting the stage for Drake’s own polyrhythmic display. Switching gears in an unexpected direction Parker’s dub-like stops weave with Drake’s tick-tock drums creating an palpable Reggae atmosphere on the disc’s title track.
Campbell’s concluding “Amadou Diallo” leaves little to the imagination, painting a stark remembrance of a recent American judicial travesty. Drake’s hand drums open paving a path for an extended rumination by the trumpeter that mixes somber lyricism with slashing stringency. The composition concludes with a sobering staccato fire of notes signifying the deadly barrage of bullets that struck Diallo down. All of the album’s elements piece together into a complete and satisfying package that is both deeply gripping and infinitely listenable. Best of 2001 lists may still be a long way off, but this release is certain to be a heavyweight contender in the honors.
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Track Listing: Tazz
Personnel: Roy Campbell- trumpet, flugelhorn, pocket trumpet, percussion; William Parker- bass, percussion, shakuhachi flute; Hamid Drake- drums, percussion. Recorded: October 11 & 12, 2000. Chicago, IL.