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Norton / Celusak / Eulau: The Iron Monkey Trio

Derek Taylor By

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Sometimes the breadth and depth of existing talent in creative improvised music is lost in the political and economic rhetoric that surrounds the art form. While it’s repeatedly reported to be a niche music plagued by public and commercial ambivalence there are literally legions of players who practice and purvey it. Why are so many musicians throwing their time, talent and tenacity so whole-heartedly into a pursuit that is all but impossible to pay off in the traditionally sought after dividends of fame and financial security? Ask any follower of the music and the answer is plainly apparent. No other genre of American or European music seems to foster the same degree of grass roots community coupled with creative possibility. When the components mesh properly there’s nothing else like it. Groups like the Iron Monkey Trio remind us of this fact.

Kevin Norton is arguably the most recognizable of the trio’s members. A frequent collaborator in Anthony Braxton’s Tri-Centric musical endeavors, he’s increasingly assumed leadership roles in the latter half of the 90s and into the dawn of the new millennium. Andy Eulau has vibrant Braxton ties as well through participation in a recent project for CIMP. Bob Celusak is the resident mystery man with only cryptic snatches of his background afforded in the liners. An active saxophonist for over three decades (save a nine year lapse in the 80s), this marks his first commercially released recording! Encountering his brusque, pointedly direct tone and phrasing on these ten tracks I have to echo producer Bob Rusch’s sentiments in voicing my surprise at his long overdue debut. Better late than never though, I suppose.

Norton contributes the majority of compositions, but the feel and dynamic of the trio is definitely communal. “O/R” opens things with a declamatory groove posited by the drummer and bassist over which Celusak blows Rollinseque ripples of notes. “Nardis” keeps the energy crackling as the three transfigure the familiar Miles Davis theme into a personalized paean to the Dark Magus. Celusak shows off sound on soprano that is at once tart and cloying and Eulau’s extended improvisation affects a similar marriage of disparate designs. Norton mixes things up with whisking brushes on the Eulau-penned “CIMPly the Blues” engaging in an extended exchange with the bassist that truly tests the mettle of both men in the most understated manner.

“This Loving Thing” and “Thoughts of the Iron Monkey” were recorded whilst Eulau was napping and feature saxophonist and drummer in energetic tandem to blistering effect. Taking things out on an ironic note, the disc’s shortest piece is the concluding three-part suite, ringing in at a mere four minutes. What’s most impressive is the palpable way in which these three players listen and respond to one another, reacting in and of the moment, while at the same time staying true to their distinct selves. The current state of creative improvised music may be a fount of substantial talent, but this particular trio shows itself as a geyser of unusual height and heat.

CIMP on the web:

Track Listing: O/R/ Nardis/ CIMPly Da Blues/ This Loving Thing/ I Mean You/ December 19, 2000 (For Milt Hinton)/ Walking the Dogma/ Thoughts of the Iron Monkey/ Footprints/ Suite in Three Parts: a. He Ain

Personnel: Kevin Norton- drums, percussion; Bob Celusak- tenor & soprano saxophones; Andy Eulau- bass. Recorded: January 15 & 16, 2001, Rossie, NY.

Title: The Iron Monkey Trio | Year Released: 2001 | Record Label: CIMP Records


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