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Trio 3: Wha's Nine (2008)

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Trio 3: Wha's Nine How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

Altoist Oliver Lake, bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Andrew Cyrille co-founded Trio 3 in 1988 but didn't record their first album Live in Willisau (Dizzim) until four years later, only releasing it in 1997. Wha's Nine, recorded live in Paris in October 2007 and only their fifth CD, is a gem of a document that helps fill out the group's slender discography.

At the penultimate set of their four-night stand at Birdland in late July—a simultaneous CD release and 20th anniversary celebration—they performed several compositions from the disc and, as with the CD, opened with Eric Dolphy's "Gazzelloni." On the live CD, the tune functioned as both sound check and warm-up—the liners describe the group's arrival after the publicized show time due to airline strikes and flight delays—though the immediate three-way intensity belied any jetlag or rustiness. Live at Birdland, Trio 3 was wonderfully complemented by pianist Geri Allen (only two pianists—Irene Schweizer and Andrew Hill—have ever performed with the group), whose punctuations served as an effective foil to Lake's sudden intervallic leaps and maintained Trio 3's greatest strength: balance between structure and freedom, composition and improvisation.

Workman plays a central role as set-up man and indeed the bassist's best and most experimental playing is arguably with this group; on Curtis Clark's "Amreen," which followed "Gazelloni" in both Paris and New York, he amazed with an unaccompanied pizzicato solo that sounded more like a bass duet. The same can be said for Lake, whose distinct tone floats then flutters in lyrical and rhythmic fashion and Cyrille, who lightly bounces odd rhythms from his kit, with exclamatory bass drum kick or slashing cymbal where you'd expect neither.

Trio 3's collective development finds each member commonly orbiting the others' contributions with empathy solidified over two decades. The expanded version with Allen is heard best on the Workman-penned title track, played on both live occasions. Its upbeat theme incorporates all the elements that make Trio 3—with or without Allen—one of the best small groups performing—and recording (two more releases are due out by May 2009)—today.

Track Listing: Gazzelloni; Amreen; ZC; Come on Home, Baby; Willow Song; Striation; Wha's Nine; Hasan.

Personnel: Oliver Lake: alto sax; Reggie Workman: bass; Andrew Cyrille: drums.

Record Label: Marge

Style: Free Improv/Avant-Garde


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