Looking back has become almost de rigeur lately, and with that the risk of putting legacy groups on a pedestalbeing fervently imitative, rather than taking the music to new places. Saudades pays tribute to the late drummer Tony Williams' groundbreaking fusion group Lifetime, and Trio Beyond clearly has the right idea. The spirit and energy which defined Lifetime's brief existence is in full force on this live double-disc set, but Trio Beyond's ability to apply a modernistic bent to Lifetime's raw power makes Saudades more than just a heartfelt tribute. It's one of the best releases of 2006.
Drummer Jack DeJohnette, guitarist John Scofield and keyboardist Larry Goldings ensure that Williams' revolutionary work is given a facelift that's reverent but speaks with its own voice. Culling material from Lifetime's Emergency! (Polydor, 1969) and Turn It Over (Polydor, 1970), and dipping into the repertoire of Lifetime organist Larry Young and iconic bandleader Miles Daviswho first brought Williams to prominenceTrio Beyond's purview is broader than Lifetime's ever was.
DeJohnette and Williams were contemporaries, so there's no denying that cross-pollination occurred. Williams swung hard, and here DeJohnette is as raucous as he's ever sounded, approaching John Coltrane's "Big Nick with a muscularity rarely heard from him these days. Always a malleable player, DeJohnette keeps the time profoundly elusive yet undeniably clear on the ballad "I Fall in Love Too Easily.
A decade his junior, Scofield couldn't help but be influenced by Lifetime guitarist John McLaughlin's seemingly unschooled but, in reality, highly studied approach to aggressive jazz guitar. Scofield has rarely played with this level of energy and angularity, especially when the trio's take on McLaughlin's knotty "Spectrum breaks down mid-stream. With his own harmonic approach, Scofield applies a host of electronic processing to take his instrument to places McLaughlin simply couldn't have visited.
At 38, Larry Goldings is the same age as Young was when he died tragically in 1978. Young's more abstract modality figures more in Goldings' approach than the soul jazz of Jimmy Smith or Jack McDuff.
Reaching Lifetime's sonic levels on "Emergency and "Spectrum, Trio Beyond also shines in its reinvention of material Williams played during his tenure with Miles. "Seven Steps to Heaven opens with a powerful vamp that sets up the familiar theme, played with unexpectedly staggered time and an energy that leads into Scofield's hard-hitting solo, supported by an unrepentant DeJohnette and Goldings' in-the-stratosphere accompaniment.
While Trio Beyond demonstrates more finesse than Lifetime, it would be a mistake to consider this a more conventional group. There's nothing polite about it, and Saudades demonstrates that when you bring together three players with a common goal, the resultant chemistry can make for music that's both visceral and cerebral. With a European tour this year and dates lining up for 2007, it looks like Trio Beyond will be around for awhilewhich is good news for those who want to hear three players at the absolute top of their game.
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Personnel: Jack DeJohnette: drums; John Scofield: guitars; Larry Goldings: Hammond organ, electric piano, sampler.