Saxophonist Ellery Eskelin's trio has always defied conventional expectations. The unusual match of his powerful, melodic tenor with the experimental accordion, piano and sampler playing of Andrea Parkins and the inimitable drumming of Jim Black is now in its tenth year. To commemorate this milestone, Eskelin surprises again on Ten by throwing out composition and inviting guests: vocalist Jessica Constable, guitarist Marc Ribot and bassist Melvin Gibbs. The use of electric guitar and bass and the all-improvised program force the trio to adjust and reinvent their interaction.
Eskelin and Black's rapport is instantly evident on the opening duet "If Not Now," which finds them working grooves and textures, shifting the momentum. The leader is paired with Parkins' piano on "Ask Me Why," which features dramatic dynamics and close interplay. The trio gets together for only two pieces, "Anyone's Guess" and "Say it Again"the first, a rocking romp propelled by Black; the second, a mysterious and subtle exercise with sonic space.
The remainder of the CD contains various pairings and subgroups with the guests, and the changing chemistry ensures that ideas are not repeated. "More Than That," with a power trio of Eskelin, Black and Gibbs, is fiery, the tenor blasting over the burbling rhythm, while "Anywhere, Not Here" is a subdued Ribot/Eskelin duet with flowing washes of notes. Interestingly, the two pieces that feature the full sextet, "No Illusions" and "Take Me," almost sound composed, as the musicians display stellar listening, careful to leave room for each player. The pieces build around the vocals and establish groove, but still allow chances for the musicians to shred, especially Ribot.
Though Ten marks a departure from the trio's past, it is still a celebration of their history. Without their established bonds, the music might not sound so compelling or be as ultimately successful.
1. If Not Now
2. Tell me When
3. Anyone's Guess
4. Say it Again
5. Ask to Be
6. More Than That
7. Anywhere, Not Here
8. If So
9. Ask Me Why
10. No Illusions
11. I Couldn't Say
12. Take Me
Ellery Eskelin - tenor saxophone;
Andrea Parkins - piano, accordion and sampler;
Jim Black - drums and percussion;
plus special guests:
Jessica Constable - voice;
Marc Ribot - guitar;
Melvin Gibbs - bass
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