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Borderlands Trio: Wandersphere

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Borderlands Trio: Wandersphere
Like a billionaire with money to burn, the Borderlands Trio frequently launch into space, and hit the jackpot in doing so. On this double disc set, the threesome—comprising bassist Stephan Crump, pianist Kris Davis and drummer Eric McPherson—luxuriate in the wide open vistas of four expansive improvisations of between nineteen and forty-two minutes. The decision to play and present entire pieces rather than excerpts, as they did on some of the shorter numbers on their debut Asteroidea (Intakt, 2017), pays rich dividends, as it allows an opportunity to appreciate the daredevil creation on-the-fly as they invent structures, spawn tension, and unearth resolutions in unforced natural developments.

Although they operate in the free jazz arena, they use the syntax of the conventional piano trio to do so. The closest parallel might be Farmers By Nature, the similarly adventurous triumvirate of Craig Taborn, William Parker and Gerald Cleaver. McPherson proves the key as he anchors the trio by deploying a vocabulary, honed in stints with Andrew Hill and Fred Hersch, in impromptu but always appropriate ways. Crump and Davis affirm the feeling. They share not only a composerly sensibility, which means that form is always in mind, but also an affinity for shapeshifting minimalist cells, which become all the more thrilling when reinforced by McPherson's rhythmic acumen.

The rapport between Crump and McPherson impresses from the very start, as the merest wisps of bowed bass find their echo in a stick scraped across metal, then is repeatedly manifest in the spontaneous grooves the pair magic from thin air. Such shifts in and out of time, without jarring disconnects, while still playing free is one of the most difficult tricks to pull off, but here the transitions happen almost imperceptibly.

For his part Crump brings the refined sense of complex yet supple swing which illuminated his contributions to Vijay Iyer's Trio, and allies that to a propensity for extemporized melody and incisive counterpoint. Crisp and controlled, McPherson favors patterns and subtle propulsion rather than textures. He executes tight rhythmic kernels, like a bass drum throb, bustling cymbal traceries or ticking hihat, in graceful orbits across his kit.

Davis is a breathtaking improviser. She contrasts fast moving ripples with felicitous song like phrases, which she varies and mutates, with intermittent snags on miniature phrases. The interplay often takes on a percussive feel, accentuated when Davis morphs her sound through preparations to her piano interior, sometimes evoking a pocket gamelan orchestra, then at other times making judicious use of resonators on the wires to generate pure tones. When she pitches altered notes in one hand against untreated figures in the other, her ability to balance starkly different voices in each hand becomes devastatingly clear.

But even with such stellar components, it is an egalitarian outfit, creating strings of elegantly evolving ideas and moods which convince as so coherent they could be scripted. Among the many highlights, the lengthy "Old-Growth" stands out. One early peak comes as Davis interrupts her Morse-coded hammerings with increasingly wayward digressions, until she erupts in a keyboard-spanning explosion which is a reminder that Cecil Taylor remains one of her guiding lights. A decrescendo ensues as strums on the wire, dampened keys, whispering percussion and plaintive arco sighs conjure an atmospheric passage. It is here that McPherson reveals his amazing attention to detail as he complements the vibe with a cymbal wash rhythmically attenuated by his hand. Thereafter the piece again builds into another pulsing vamp, momentarily recalling the late lamented Esbjorn Svensson Trio, as it flows through multiple peaks and valleys.

It is a set which should feature highly in the upcoming year end reckonings.

Track Listing

Wnadersphere I, CD 1: Super Organism; An Invitation to Disappear. Wandersphere II, CD 2: Old Growth; Possible Pictures.`

Personnel

Album information

Title: Wandersphere | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Intakt Records


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