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Steve Swell Trio: Atmospheels

Derek Taylor By

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Steve Swell Trio: Atmospheels Don’t let the stripped down instrumentation of this trio fool you. These three players make music of such breadth and scope that it often sounds as if there were twice their number. Their playing is both visceral and vigorous and they communicate an urgent energy barely controlled by the confines of the tunes. Grassi is a one man percussive powerhouse able to pound out elemental cadences or just as agilely sculpt complex polyrhythms for his partners to play atop. Connell’s reedwork is wracked with the kind of emotional immediacy that grabs you by the collar and doesn’t let go until you’ve listened (and not just heard) fully to what he’s trying to say. It’s unfortunate that he hasn’t recorded more widely especially considering the evidence of his prowess available here. Swell is the perfect ringleader tossing growling metallic slurs like thunderbolts and turning from lead to rhythmic roles on a dime.

“Labor’s Daze” and “Cosmo Crater” capture the trio’s more agitated side as the three crash and cavort with unruly abandon. The only drawback to these tunes is their sometimes unyielding density. “Folk Tune,” is built on just that serving up some delicious solos from all three players, particularly Swell who takes the longest space to relinquish his verdant ideas. “Saved As One” also highlights Swell in a pugnacious display of lower register jabs and cuffs that cow the tune’s melody into pummeled submission. Grassi’s disorderly drums contribute further to the din while simultaneous maintaining a rhythmic center. On “BA-1” the trio completely shifts gears playing softly muted unison passages emphasizing sonic space and nuance. The opening duet between Swell and Grassi is suffused with the kind of interplay most groups yearn for. Alto saxophone and trombone are the focal points on “Let’s Go Right Ahead” where Connell and Swell blend and shape their lines with uncanny telepathic accuracy. “Atmospheels-Stage 2” (what happened to Stage 1?) is built around a cyclic themes which recollect both AACM and Latin influences. The concluding “Soul Traveler Con Fuego” carries over some of the Latin elements, most notably in Grassi’s shakers and shells, and serves as a fitting coda for the disc. Thanks to Bob Rusch and everyone at CIMP all three of these players are finally getting their well deserved due through ongoing opportunities to record the wonderful music that inhabits their fertile minds. Hopefully these fruitful associations will continue to produce sessions of this high caliber for years to come.


Track Listing: Labor

Personnel: Steve Swell- trombone, Will Connell- alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, Lou Grassi- drums, percussion.

Title: Atmospheels | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: CIMP Records


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