In becoming an outlet for the Chicago scene and elsewhere during the last ten years, the ears&eyes label has recently done its share to highlight the work of drummer Charles Rumback
. 2015 was a particularly productive year for him, in fact: he released a quartet record (In the New Year
) with altoist Caroline Davis
, guitarist Jeff Parker
and bassist John Tate
; a duo recording with Tate (Daylight Savings
); and at the end of that year he was joined once again by Tate, with the addition of pianist Jim Baker
, for the recording of a stimulating live set at Chicago's Constellation. Threes
is the document of that performance, with four expansive tracks that straddle the line between freedom and structure.
Rumback is a sensitive drummer, not inclined to bash or pummel his kit; instead, he's much more at home as a colorist, or in setting up an infectious groove with Tate, with whom he definitely shares a rhythmic sensibility as a product of their years of playing together. Baker, long a fixture in Chicago in part through his work with a host of leading-edge saxophonists (including Ken Vandermark
, Dave Rempis
, and Fred Anderson
), is similarly content here to stay relatively constrained, eschewing showiness in favor of compelling harmonic explorations and measured improvisations.
Melody is definitely at the fore of the music. On Rumback originals like "Salt Lines" and "Too Toney," or the Andrew Hill
cover "Erato," Baker develops lyrical sentiment over the supple rhythmic support of Rumback and Tate. "Salt Lines" offers an especially memorable tune in a gentle 3/4 tempo, and the track has the kind of feel one might associate with Tord Gustavsen
, or Peter Erskine
's trio with Palle Danielsson
and John Taylor
: taking a deceptively simple melody and embellishing it through compelling rhythmic interplay and deft harmonic subtleties. Rumback is indeed reminiscent of Erskine as a drummer capable of bringing genuine emotional depth to both his playing and his compositions. The trio's performance of Hill's "Erato" is very much in the same vein; although the head is a bit more complex, it's the stately grace of the piece that gives the track its power.
Unlike the shorter tracks, the 21-minute-plus "Three Storey Birdhouse/Right Reasons" gives the trio a bit more freedom. Baker is clearly at his strongest when he's got the autonomy to leave settled parameters behind: whether in the relatively unstructured first half of the track or over a loose, ostinato bass groove during the latter half, he takes advantage of the additional space he's given to take things farther out. And Tate and Rumback are more than willing to go there with him. While never letting things get out of control, the trio show here that they can do more than offer a clever melody; with a well-honed rapport and a shared sense of purpose, they can make room for some engaging spontaneous creativity as well.