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Fly: Sky & Country

Jeff Dayton-Johnson By

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The near-unanimous acclaim that has greeted Fly's sophomore effort (and ECM debut) tends to see the trio as a second coming of the legendary Bill Evans Trio that recorded the classic Waltz for Debby and Sunday at the Village Vanguard (Riverside, 1961). That's the way people are talking about the record, anyway.

The record doesn't sound like the Evans trio, nor is there any good reason why it should sound like a record almost fifty years old. The similarity has more to do with the unusually high level of empathy and collective purpose among the players.

The distinctive feature of Sky & Country, in addition to this salutary democratic spirit, is cerebral compositions crawling around a lattice of vaguely rock-inspired rhythm. The musical logic underlying the pieces here is uncompromisingly angular and emotionally reserved (the oblique scales of "Dharma Days," for example). There aren't many familiar melodic markers, even if "Transfigured" briefly appears to quote "Milestones"—which was on the Evans trio's set list. Moreover, the combination of abstract material with the trio's premeditated forthrightness sometimes makes it difficult to know when the statement of the composed material ends and the improvisation begins.

In this stark trio setting, many of these numbers resemble architectural drawings more than baroque cathedrals. That's fine, but it begs the question: what harmonies would master jazz orchestrators like Maria Schneider or Guillermo Klein uncover in these compositions?

Jeff Ballard's drumming, meanwhile, is taut, crisp, occasionally funky, and reproduced here with the crystalline precision expected from ECM releases. "Elena Berenjena"—a title that sounds considerably more exotic than "Helen Eggplant," its English equivalent—develops over a rock and roll beat. It's ingenious, it's endlessly varied, but it's a rock and roll beat. The beat behind "Super Sister," meanwhile, brushes right up against funk, without crossing that line.

In fact, a considerable amount of this record's appeal stems precisely from this juxtaposition of melodies that challenge the mind and rhythms that pluck the rock-tinged strings of the collective memory. It's probably a little more complicated than that, but that's the idea.

Track Listing: Lady B; Sky & Country; Elena Berenjena; CJ; Dharma Days; Ananda Nanda; Perla Morena; Transfigured; Super Sister.

Personnel: Mark Turner: tenor and soprano saxophones; Larry Grenadier: double-bass; Jeff Ballard: drums.

Title: Sky & Country | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: ECM Records

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