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On occasion, the String Trio of New York (guitarist James Emery, bassist John Lindberg, and violinist Rob Thomas) has worked with special guests, including pianist Anthony Davis and vocalist Jay Clayton. Frozen Ropes, with altoist Oliver Lake, is a worthy and concise addition to the group's catalog.
These five selections total just over 46 minutes. The first two tracks, both extended pieces, are the strongest. "Shiffs, penned by Lake, opens with composed rubato dissonance and progresses through a thicket of solo and collective free improvisation. Lindberg's title track begins with bass and violin bowing frenetically for three minutes in an ominous allegro feel. Lindberg transitions to pizzicato for the main body of the tune, a swinging theme capped by a memorable staccato hook. Here and throughout the disc, the STNY, with its inimitable acoustic sound, proves a good match for Lakewhose barking, angular horn is balanced by Emery's dry, unamplified guitar.
Lake's ballad "Reminds Me is the most conventional piece and the most lyrical alto sax showcase. Emery coaxes stately jazz harmonies from his strings and Thomas weighs in with a cogent solo as well. The departure from this to Emery's "Texas Koto Blues is striking; the composer plays bluesy slide on soprano guitar as Lindberg chugs away in 12/8 and Lake wails. At four minutes the groove stops and the band floats. Bowed strings and glistening soprano guitar evoke a sylvan setting; then Lake returns to punctuate a final melodic passage. What begins as a novelty ends up as anything but. Unfortunately, the band misfires with the closing "Lonnie's Lament, by Coltrane. This is a melody that suffers when shrieked. Trane's mood of cavelight contemplation is absent.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.