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Convergence Quartet: Slow And Steady

John Sharpe By

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It might just be that the third record from the Transatlantic Convergence Quartet is its best yet. Recorded live at north London's Vortex at the conclusion of a short British tour, the band was firing on all cylinders. Not that its previous two outings were in any way remiss. Live In Oxford (FMR, 2007) documented a foursome still getting to know each other, while Song Dance (Clean Feed, 2010) delved into a dizzying range of options for common ground. Comprising four strong composers who are also talented improvisers, a group identity has gradually become manifest; drawing on both the jazz heritage and the free improv tradition, they combine lushness and austerity in slyly knowing conceptual gambits delivered with openness, wit and imagination.

Cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum, well-known for his associations with pianist Cecil Taylor, trumpeter Bill Dixon and, particularly, reedman Anthony Braxton, allies a world weary lyricism to adventurous technique, while up-and-coming pianist Alexander Hawkins invokes the entire keyboard pantheon, sometimes within the span of a single cut. On drums, Harris Eisenstadt demonstrates a mastery which makes the tricky seem elegantly nonchalant. Bassist Dominic Lash, a longtime companion of the pianist but increasingly visible in a variety of unfettered settings, possesses a scope which can see him start a piece at a spry walk, but finish by exploring the possibilities of a creaking drone. But whatever the stylistic switchbacks, each manages the transitions with such aplomb that what could be jarring appears inevitable.

Although very different, the seven selections, furnished by each of the principals, engender a convincing unity. Hawkins' "assemble/melancholy" lures four disparate strands together until they coalesce in a lilting swing, while "equals/understands (totem)," from the same pen, follows a circus march with a rootsy piano break, which would have been equally apt on Hammond organ, before closing in a pointillist timbral exchange. A similarly enigmatic ending also graces "Remember Raoul/Piano Part Two" which finds a languorous cornet line drifting uneasily over a sprightly rhythm, before slowing to a glacial pace for Bynum to create a litany of extreme effects wrung from the combination of air, lip and metal.

For each release to date Eisenstadt has brought a purpose made vehicle which shows off the constituents to maximum advantage. His "Third Convergence" bounds in like a lion with an exuberant drum solo, undercut by a series of measured cornet/piano unisons, before blossoming into a lovely low key melody and a flowery excursion by Hawkins, then going out like a lamb via a spluttering cornet solo over a rolling vamp. The drummer also contributes the title track, this time reprised from the his Canada Day III (Songlines, 2012), a deceptively simple strolling line, with Hawkins covering both the vibes and saxophone parts, which acts as a wistful finale to a terrific album.

Track Listing: assemble/melancholy; Third Convergence; Remember Raoul/Piano Part Two; equals/understands (totem); Oat Roe + Three by Three; The Taff End; Slow and Steady.

Personnel: Taylor Ho Bynum: cornet; Alexander Hawkins: piano; Dominic Lash: double bass; Harris Eisenstadt: drums.

Title: Slow And Steady | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: NoBusiness Records


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