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Ellery Eskelin & Han Bennink: Dissonant Characters

Robert Spencer By

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"And Han, to his audible pleasure, discovers a rare, fully equipped improviser he can't scare off, wear out, bury or give the slip."

So says Kevin Whitehead in the liner notes to this little gem, which consists of ten tracks - ranging in time from twenty-four seconds to almost ten minutes - and all featuring an incredibly agile Ellery Eskelin, plus Han Bennink, as puckish and brilliant a drummer as ever.

Take the first track, with Bennink's dramatically spare and heart-stopping opening. Take the second track, which is the title track. Although it's the first track, not the second, that's called "Flutter," it's the second where Eskelin pours out flurries of notes, building to tremendous tension, rising and falling in closely related melodic bursts as dissonant as Evan Parker's tenor growlings but somewhat sweeter, while Bennink keeps up Max Roach flutters behind him, or punctuates phrases with single crashing notes. It "sounds like chasing and being chased," says Whitehead, and he's right again.

The third track, "Incontrario," features Eskelin more exposed, with Bennink leaving these querulous phrases unanswered for longer periods - although he always knows when to underline, or italicize, or tack on an exclamation point, a question mark, or even a comma. And the drummer is never far from his humor, as when Eskelin hangs on a long multiphonic screech, only to be answered by bells a-ringing as cheerily as Santa rings them in front of Macy's.

Then it's off to the races again. "Oloraz = (Barolo)" is a slippery melodic figure articulated by Eskelin, strolling this way and that. This track and the briefest of brief tracks, "Alias," show how much improvising drummers like Paul Lytton and Paul Lovens owe to Bennink. "Bud + Shake" resumes the chase, but more furiously, and ends in a draw. "Sight Unseen/Brilliant Corners" picks up around the same hard-fought and loquacious place but ends, surprise, in Monkville, where Eskelin plays it sure-handedly straight around the trickiest of themes, using it as a springboard for some artfully chosen "inside" improvisations, while Bennink keeps joyful time. Later, on Monk's "Let's Cool One," the duo slides out as straight-faced as on "Brilliant Corners."

"No Pyrrhula, Pyrrhula (=Bullfinch)" picks up another steady beat, this one Caribbean-tinged and serpentine; but Eskelin cannot be shaken! Nor can he on the closing railroad pastiche "Pro Tanto." The music ranges from tranquil to frenzied, and steadily rhythmic to utterly arhythmic, but these two are together at every point. Highly recommended.

Hatology discs can be obtained from North Country distributors, Cadence Bldg., Redwood, NY 13679. Phone/fax: (315) 287-2852 and (315) 287-2860. Email: orders@cadencebuilding.com. Website: http://www.cadencebuilding.com.


Title: Dissonant Characters | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: Prime Source Recordings


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