Unlike a novel, where the writer needs to pique prospective purchasers' interest with the first paragraph, the instant attention-grabbing tactic is not always possible with music, especially if it's a live recording which captures the arc of a performance. So, while the opening track of Intention by the threesome of pianist Marilyn Lerner, bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Lou Grassi clearly establishes their working methods as the points of an equilateral triangle, it only hints at the pay-off in store later in the program.
As one would expect of the fourth release by an outfit which has been a going concern since at least 2010, they possess a cohesive group identity, one in which the drum kit is not the only percussion instrument, and it is not only the piano which handles melody. A taut web of intrigue connects Lerner's dramatic amalgam of hammered keys, tripping lines and snagged notes with Grassi's uneasy clatter and chatter and Filiano's bowed swipes and wiry counterpoint. They shun written material in favor of collectively-developed escapades which might be categorized as free jazz, although there is more than a touch of improv involved at times too, such as on the wryly titled "Plink Plunk."
Filiano's unaccompanied introduction to "Eric's House," in which he toggles between knotty bouts and resonant slurs, demonstrates the articulation and imagination which has made him such a presence on the New York scene. When Lerner joins, her gleaming surge seems almost boppish, a thought affirmed by Grassi's shuffling drive. Thereafter, the cut opens out for a succession of explosive solo features, before the trio reconvenes at the close. At over fifteen minutes, it is the longest cut, and one of the highlights. Filiano also figures heavily in another peak, on "No Farewell," when, against a rattling backdrop, he uses EFX to set up a sighing arco loop against which he plucks an aching melodic variations.
The conjunction of these last two titles takes on an unintended poignancy as Eric Stern, who ran the Eric's House of Improv concert series where the album was recorded and who is thanked prominently on the sleeve, passed away in December 2019. But with its bracing sense of adventure and spontaneity, this disc suggests a vibrant legacy.
Intention; Metamorphosis; Plink Plunk; Eric's House; No Farewell; Cavern Of Mystery.
Marilyn Lerner: piano; Ken Filiano: bass & EFX; Lou Grassi: drums & percussion.
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