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Ellery Eskelin with Andrea Parkins & Jim Black: Kulak, 29 & 30

Robert Spencer By

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Kulak, 29 & 30 was recorded live at Kulak, Berikon, Switzerland, on October 29 and 30, 1997, by the innovative trio of Ellery Eskelin (tenor saxophone), Andrea Parkins (accordion and sampler), and Jim Black (percussion). In the liner notes Ellery Eskelin explains that "I'm constantly looking for structural methods to change existing and assumed paradigms in improvised music, sometimes blurring the line between written and improvised material but more often creating a highly defined distinction."

That's exactly what's happening on Kulak, 29 & 30. "Departure Lounge," the opening and defining track, begins with a series of lightning shifts from a funky beat (over which Eskelin's tenor sails) to thoughtful rubato accordion riffs from Parkins, and back again. Finally the funk beat wins out, and Eskelin improvises over it with melodic sensibility but a keen individuality and awareness of post-Albert Ayler and even post-Evan Parker tenor saxophone innovations. Parkins builds a gradual ascent with him as Black's funk rhythms shift and churn; at the piece's climax Eskelin and Parkins are playing with a stately mien (rubato) over the funk, which finally gives up as tenor and accordion duet to climax the piece before the drums return for a passionate finale. This bravura track shows this trio at their best - both in their imaginative reconstructions and recombinations of generic material, and in their tremendous instrumental ability and appeal.

The other tracks contain the same unexpected shifts, carried off with aplomb. "Fifty Nine" is immediately less rhythmically-based, as it is built on some ecclesiastical sonorities from Parkins; but after Eskelin enters to work a repeating, subtly mutating figure, Black solos at the center of the piece, which then returns to the same lunar landscape where it began. "Visionary of the Week" begins similarly, but goes in completely different directions. Nor is that the end of the ride. "Rhyme or Reason" and "Organum" build from quiet edgy noises (with Eskelin at his most Evan Parkerish). On "Rhyme or Reason" there suddenly appears a thoroughly surprising Parkins ostinato, and some marvelous melodic inventiveness from Eskelin; "Organum" sustains the original mood longer, but takes it also into uncharted ground. "Expubidence" is a brief tripartite dialogue that shows Eskelin ranging all over the stylistic map in the smallest of spaces.

Kulak, 29 & 30 is a fascinating document of one of today's top trios at work. Don't miss it.


Title: Kulak, 29 & 30 | Year Released: 1998 | Record Label: Hat Hut Records

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