For the past few years, Gerald Cleaver has been on the A-List of most enjoyable drummers to see live. He is ever the master of the perfectly placed tap, with an inborn sense of when to chill out or when to charge full speed ahead. Pianist Craig Taborn met Cleaver at college in Michigan, and the two share a musical connection that runs deep. As intimately as Cleaver plays his drums, Taborn does the same with his piano. Not afraid to tinkle his instrument's insides as well as its keys, Taborn can craft a piece with staccato or flowing lines.
He and Cleaver have jointly lent their respective touches to many a leader's session but are perhaps most at home when given the liberty of a free-improv date where they are allowed to play with a minimal set of rules. Under the nominal leadership of Danish tenor and soprano saxophonist Lotte Anker, Tryptych, one of the latest releases featuring the duo, is exactly that.
From the opening title cut, Anker shows that she is much at home in making this a threesome. Her playing throughout is impressive as she highlights a remarkable ability to take things smoothly from a simple brief toot or squeak to a maniacal frenzy and back again. Concentrate on simply the sound during the sonic pinnacle of either "Triptych or "Cumulus and the music loses its form, but ease into your seat from the beginning and hold on for a fantastic voyage.
Notable exceptions such as the short thoughtful piano ballad "Lotuseating and lovely harmonies of "Frog Floating provide some momentary reprieve, but in the main, this is not music for the moment but a glorious journey of group improvisation that bears repeated listening. For most of these cuts, the fun is getting there and finding your way home, and with these three top improvisers at the controls, Tryptych delivers a magnificent trip.
Personnel: Lotte Anker: tenor and soprano saxophone; Craig Taborn: piano; Gerald Cleaver: drums.