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Trio Beyond: Saudades

Jeff Dayton-Johnson By

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This energetic November 2004 London concert was billed as "Lifetime and Beyond: Celebrating Tony Williams." The trio's instrumentation—organ, electric guitar, drums—mirrors the late drummer's seminal jazz-rock Lifetime outfit, but its name emphasizes what lies beyond.

Lifetime is not forgotten in the process, of course. Each of two long sets ends with a number from the trio's explosive 1969 debut, and these new readings still echo some of the excitement and incomprehensibility that the music caused more than thirty years ago. Unlike most of the other jazz-rock fusion of the era, Tony Williams' conception of rock embraced not only Sly Stone, James Brown and Jimi Hendrix, but also, on the aural evidence, the likes of Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes.

Larry Goldings, John Scofield and Jack DeJohnette play the uncompromising rock 'n' roll of the "Emergency" theme with great vigor, but quickly segue into a less frenetic (and sublime) post-bop vibe. Indeed, the record's best moments draw more deeply upon music associated with Williams' membership in Miles Davis' classic mid-'60s quintet, before he left to form Lifetime: "Seven Steps to Heaven," "Pee Wee" and a beautiful "I Fall In Love Too Easily" with a long blues coda. When Trio Beyond goes "beyond" Lifetime, they mean before Lifetime.

DeJohnette's idiosyncratic gifts are especially suited to this setting. In the original trio, Larry Young and John McLaughlin liberated the organ/guitar aesthetic from the funky but narrow supremacy of the Lonnie Liston Smith/George Benson sound; for them, as for Goldings and Scofield, the organ does not always double for the missing bass. Thus DeJohnette thus finds plenty of space to thrash about in his preferred booming bottom range.

Likewise, the assertive loudness of the electric instrumentation stands up better to the drummer's aggressive proclivities (though after all those years playing in Keith Jarrett's Standards Trio, DeJohnette is much more at ease in the gentler passages, as on "Big Nick"). As a result, DeJohnette is the key ingredient in a very successful combination that might be called, improbable as it sounds, stadium chamber jazz.

Scofield is fluent, flexible, and thoroughly at home with the particular timbres of the electric instrument. He frequently opts for a cool, R&B-inflected understatement, an efficient contrast to the florid, almost hyperactive vocabulary of the trio's other members. Listen in particular to his playing on the power ballad "As One" and the funky, trio-composed title track, whose short melodic line is purloined from Miles Davis's "Spanish Key." Goldings is the least mature voice in the the trio, but his proficiency, his inventiveness, and more importantly (given the company he's keeping), his stamina never waver.

Not rigidly constrained to a literal rendering of Williams' music, the members of Trio Beyond instead sample the late drummer's musical universe, bringing their own perspectives into the mix. Saudades is a fitting tribute to Williams' considerable legacy, but it is also a part of that legacy.

Track Listing: CD1: If; As One; Allah Be Praised; Saudades; Pee Wee; Spectrum. CD2: Seven Steps to Heaven; I Fall in Love Too Easily; Love in the Blues; Big Nick; Emergency.

Personnel: Jack DeJohnette: drums; John Scofield: guitars; Larry Goldings: Hammond organ, electric piano, sampler.

Title: Saudades | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: ECM Records

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