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Jeff Cosgrove: Alternating Current

Ian Patterson By

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With Matthew Shipp and William Parker: Jeff Cosgrove: Alternating Current "Playing music is like doing heart surgery," bassist William Parker told interviewer Radhika Philiip in Being Here: Conversations on Creating Music (Radio.org, 2013). "Every time you hit a note, someone's life is on the line, and so you can't fool around."

Serious intent and intense focus are the cornerstones of these playful dialogues between Parker, drummer Jeff Cosgrove and pianist Matthew Shipp. A similar approach is also recommended in approaching this music—background noise it ain't. Drummer Andrew Cyrille—to whom the title track is dedicated—is the link between the three musicians, having taught Cosgrove and collaborated with both Shipp and Parker. Cyrille has been a mainstay of New York's improvised music scene for over fifty years and an inspiration to many of its rank and file.

The heart of the recording resides in the spontaneous composition "Bridges of Tomorrow," where the three musicians operate in tight harness for nearly forty minutes. There's a very organic ebb and flow to Shipp's series of vamps and repeating motifs, Parker's constantly thrumming, subtly undulating bass lines and Cosgrove's mood-defining accents. Perhaps because there's little here approaching conventional jazz rhythms the hypnotic linear development of the music warps concepts of time; once sucked into the whirlpool the forty minutes fly by.

Pianist Cecil Taylor's 1960s ensembles may have paved the way for this trio; the stylistic lineage between Taylor and Shipp, Cyrille and Cosgrove and particularly that between bassist Henry Grimes and Parker is felt throughout. In more contemporary terms, fans of Farmers By Nature (AUM Fidelity, 2009), Parker's live collaboration with pianist Craig Taborn and drummer Gerald Cleaver, will recognize the bold improvisational language—and exhilarating language at that—in "Bridges of Tomorrow" and "Alternating Current."

Cosgrove's soft, repeating mallets pattern ignites the trio's slow-burning fuse, with piano and singing arco soon joining. For the first half dozen minutes the trio feels its way. Cosgrove's malletts rumble like distant thunder—a harbinger of approaching storm that's not long in arriving. Shipp rotates between scurrying arabesque figures, stabbing percussive left hand and elastic vamps. Parker's arco saws new sonic space that's dissonant and brave. The intensity waxes and wanes, moving up a gear at around the fourteen-minute mark, as three voices almost as one lock into a more urgent pattern. Shipp gains greater fluidity, though his dizzying runs are still punctuated by repeating patterns executed at breakneck speed and punchy exclamations.

Parker's continually plucked bass operates within a fairly narrow range but his energy and invention are highlighted when the other two drop out for a couple of minutes. The trio briefly flirts with something approximating conventional groove but Parker's arco once more steers the music towards choppier improvisational waters. Cosgrove's gradually diminishing intensity signals the winding down of the piece, which finishes with a passage bordering on—though not quite ceding ground—to more lyrical terrain.

The eleven-minute title track, with its greater lyricism from the outset, provides resolution to the intensity of the preceding forty minutes and in effect sounds like the continuation of the thought processes that had gone before. Working in an idiom that lies somewhere between contemporary classical and free-jazz, Shipp's is the dominant voice on this number, with Cosgrove's fluttering brushes and Parker's initially spacious bass work playing a more supportive role than previously. The trio then pays homage to drummer Paul Motian on a haunting rendition of "Victoria," from Motian's album Tribute (ECM, 1974).

The only predetermined composition of the recording session, "Victoria" marks the first time that either Parker or Shipp have played one of Motian's tunes. Cosgrove, on the other hand is well versed in Motian's language, having recorded one of the most original of tributes to the late drummer on The Music of Paul Motian: For the Love of Sarah (Self Produced, 2011). Respectful of the author's melody, the trio plays more like a chamber ensemble here. Sotto voce bass, pattering mallets and sighing cymbals underpin Shipp's extremely delicate interpretation of the tune.

If Cyrille, Taylor, Motian and their ilk have laid the foundations for more than one generation that followed in their wake, then Cosgrove, Shipp and Parker with their powerful, open dialogue are building bridges that will span the years to reach generations to come.

Track Listing: Bridges of Tomorrow; Alternating Current; Victoria.

Personnel: Jeff Cosgrove: drums; Matthew Shipp: piano; William Parker: bass.

Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Self Produced | Style: Free Improv/Avant-Garde


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