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Tim Armacost: Time Being

Geno Thackara By

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From the initial trotting bass solo smoothly segueing into a toe-tapping slice of timeless bop, Time Being's opening jaunt makes an introduction fascinatingly tricky and inviting. Those familiar with the wide-ranging saxophonist Tim Armacost, however, know he's got much more still up his sleeve—and that no matter how complicated things get, they'll stay listenable and accessible enough for any taste. The record is his first on Whirlwind Recordings, and it is indeed a whirlwind of clever ideas and rhythmic games: the kind that stimulates and energizes the ears without becoming chaotic or overwhelming.

Most of the session is in a trio format, which hearkens to some obvious classic touchstones—the leader has well absorbed John Coltrane's sheets of sound and the open-eared malleability of Sonny Rollins—and more importantly gives the players the space to stretch their rhythmic teamwork in this chordless format to the point of not quite coming unglued. According to Armacost, it all grew from a vision of Ornette Coleman's iconic "Lonely Woman" with three players ambling along in two different but complementary grooves ("the idea of people swinging at the same time, but not together"). Therein lies one key to the album's wickedly fun appeal: the leader's compositions offer a series of such challenges for the crew, and they dig in with the gleeful abandon of thrill-seekers taking on a devilish ski slope. The more offbeat (pun unintended) the challenge, the more fun to navigate.

Ornette's influence is also a big one throughout, particularly the use of free-form playing around one central anchor. The title track has Robert Hurst III shadowing the leader's tenor saxophone by doubling his lines on bass just a half-beat behind. The aptly-titled "Phase Shift" finds the two on opposite rhythmic 'sides,' one following Jeff "Tain" Watts' drums and one playing against, until they both gradually switch by the end. These tricks make the album's central theme; meanwhile the series of "Sculpture" interludes help give a feeling of coherence to the overall affair, even as they offer the freest improvisational passages here.

David Kikoski's piano is a colorful extra asset in a couple spots, such as the roiling Trane-quartet-style romp of "One and Four" or the Thelonious Monk homage/mutation of "53rd Street," which helps demonstrate that this combo has a depth of soul to match their technical chops. Even at their most off-the-wall, though, the musicians never stop gripping the ears and giving the feet reason to bounce. In these hands, time is a wonderfully malleable plaything to both challenge and inspire.

Track Listing: Alawain; Time Being; Sculpture #1 – Phase Shift; The Next 20; Teo; Sculpture #2 – Tempus Funkit; One and Four; Lonely Woman; 53rd St. Theme; Sculpture #3 – All the Things You Could Become in the Large Hadron Collider.

Personnel: Tim Armacost: tenor saxophone; Robert Hurst: double bass; Jeff “Tain” Watts: drums; David Kikoski: piano.

Title: Time Being | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Whirlwind Recordings Ltd

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