CHRISTOPHER ADLER TRIO

Transcontinental
9 Winds NWCD0262

A coalition of equals despite the band name, the trio of pianist Christopher Adler introduces echoes of notated music and ethnic imaging to improvisation in the three long pieces that make up this disc.

In fact, it’s the virtuosity of woodwind switch hitter Alan Lechusza that defines the shape of the tracks as much, if not more, than Adler’s contributions. Drummer

Vikas Srivastava has stated that his polyrhythmic percussion call upon Indian traditions and modern jazz, but in practice, his contributions don’t stand out as much as the work of earlier free music time keepers.

An assistant professor of music at the University of California, San Diego, Adler, has conducted large improvising ensemble projects by Lechusza and percussionist Nathan Hubbard and played with jazz experimenters like trombonists George Lewis and Michael Vlatkovitch. A visiting professor at Mahasarakham University in Thailand, he has composed and performed new works for the khaen, a Laotian mouth organ, in combination with both traditional and Western instruments. Lechusza, who has written for saxophone ensembles and been part of The Vinny Golia Large Ensemble, has also performed with other impressive left coasters such as bassist Damon Smith, Vlatkovich and Lewis. He and Adler have performed as a duo since early 2000 as well as in this trio.

“Akash” may be the CD’s — and the trio’s — most distinctive track with Lechusza producing deep breathy Asian mountain sounds from what is probably the cross-blown wooden flute. Sailing between guttural throat whistles, Dolphyesque double-timing and more ethereal airs that sound like Charles Lloyd’s “Forest Flower”, the suspicion that Adler may be matching the line on khaen arises. Of course the pianist is busy creating a pitter-patter of celeste-like, right-handed arpeggios as well as some sweeping romantic octaves that slide perilously close to cocktail jazz. Initially Srivastava produces tabla-like sounds from his kit that are later superseded by straightforward kettle drum rumbles, eventually descending to spare, nearly inaudible cymbal shimmers.

Also impressive is the title track where the pianist is forced to put aside gentle Bill Evansisms that characterize his playing elsewhere for extensive tremolos and busy, funky Horace Silver meets Art Tatum dynamic keyboard play. The force that’s with him, is not surprisingly Lechusza’s, here igniting baritone saxophone phonics in full blowtorch mode. Leaping octaves from tip-top altissimo to subterranean horks, the heat generated could burn a whole in the score paper — if that exists. Cross sticking, Srivastava clacks his hi-hat and constantly works his toe pedal onto the bass drum as he speeds up the powerful, almost unvarying tempo. Impressively two-handed, the pianist only seems to run out of gas by the end downshifting into impressionistic note pinpricks as the saxist and drummer steam on by.

This tendency to pull back almost swamps “Aloft”, the more than 26½ minute first track. Only in the final two-thirds when the saxophonist appears to have shifted from feathery alto to a smeary tenor that allows him to squeal and shriek does excitement kick in. Before that Adler is characteristically dreamy and the other two almost inaudible.

Yet with Lechusza flying high like Pharoah Sanders circa 1970, the drummer riding his cymbals, snare and toms with thick drum beats, the pianist loosens up enough to flat hand repeated block chords. Too straightforward to play McCoy Tyner to the saxophonist’s sheets of sound John Coltrane and the drummer’s intense Elvin Jones, he at least gives as good as he gets. He ascends to such a power point, in fact, that it suggests his forearm may have been called into the fray as well as his fingers to pump up and redress the equilibrium.

Not unimpressive, but not world-shaking either, this session can join many other trio discs in the promising category. Despite the musicians’ obvious blend of talents, skills and techniques, to function as a memorable organic whole more work is needed.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Aloft 2. Akash 3. Transcontinental

Personnel: Alan Lechusza (soprano, tenor and baritone saxophones, flute); Christopher Adler (piano); Vikas Srivastava (drums)