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Ellery Eskelin Trio Willisau: Live

Mark Corroto By

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I considered writing just this sentence as my review of Ellery Eskelin's trio recording Live, "A thing of beauty is a joy forever." Taken from poet John Keats' 1818 poem "Endymion," the line just about says it all.

Ok, to appease those that need a bit more information, Keats continues, "its loveliness increases / it will never pass into nothingness / but still will keep a bower quiet for us." The bower being a shady place to rest your soul. Eskelin is a romantic avant-gardist. Whether he is playing in the large ensembles of Satoko Fujii or John Hollenbeck, you can count on him centering his sound in a sentimental bohemia. In his case, this is not an oxymoron.

His recent releases have included Solo Live At Snugs (Hatology, 2015) and a series of trio recordings by his Trio New York with Hammond B3 organist Gary Versace and drummer Gerald Cleaver. That trio, like his Trio Willisau, favors jazz standards. This concert was recorded live at the Swiss jazz festival in August of 2015, and finds Gerry Hemingway in the drummer's seat. He is a player Eskelin is accustomed to performing with, being a member of the drummer's quartet and quintet, plus the pair recorded the tantalizing duo Inbetween Spaces (Auricle Records, 2010) back in 2008.

With some confidence, we can assume the 51-plus minute opening piece, "On (or about)," is a group improvisation. One that spontaneously inhales the jazz conventions and exhales the jazz standards "My Melancholy Baby," "Blue And Sentimental," and "East Of The Sun." The music excels in an unhurried indulgence. The opening instant composition hints at the standards to come, with Versace easing into "Blue And Sentimental" accompanied by Hemingway's rat-a-tat accents. The trio picks up momentum, often by decelerating. Again, not an oxymoron. They are a juggling act working with fire, water, and ice.

The two, we suspect,"called" tunes, Thelonious Monk's "We See" and "I Don't Stand A Ghost Of A Chance With You," the standard first sung by Bing Crosby, are wondrous covers. They take Monk on with Hemingway introducing the melody, then Versace's notes like skipping stones, before Eskelin bites. The trio work the edges, barely hinting at the composition, parsing out the music before diving headfirst into a hurly-burly of deconstructed notes. The finale, "I Don't Stand A Ghost Of A Chance With You," features Eskelin channeling his inner Lester Young. It is indeed, a thing of beauty.

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