Oliver Lake Trio

hatOLOGY 639

Prime “what if” material this recording captures the perfect balance between improvisation and interpretation of saxophonist Oliver Lake’s compositions attained by his band at the 1979 Willisau Jazz Festival. The unanswered question is what other impressive sounds might have been created if the trio’s singularly inventive guitarist hadn’t subsequently abandoned improvised music.

Born with the inconvenient name of Michael (Gregory) Jackson, the six tracks show how the guitarist had adopted slurred fingering and distorted bowing and tunings to complement the serpentine shrieks and squeals that Lake expelled from his tenor and soprano saxophones. Pheeroan akLaff, a subtle drummer who prefers rumbles, tambourine rattles and bounces to a crunching backbeat, fills out the band.

Although Jackson’s playing manages to meld the flanging and signal splitting of energy players like Sonny Sharrock with the clean, legato picking of traditionalists such as Jim Hall, it apparently wasn’t enough. He was spectacularly unsuccessful recording stripped-down aggressive rock on his own, even as his vocalist namesake was redefining, rock and R&B with prettified dance arrangements. Guitarist Jackson subsequently left the music business.

On this CD however, he and Lake are perfectly attuned to one another. Enlivening his cascading trills with glossolalia, altissimo squeaks, tongue slaps and flutter-tonguing, the saxophonist pours out variations upon variations of the theme. Combining finger-picking, frailing and staccato fills, Jackson matches the reedist sound-for-sound. As attuned to one another as identical twins, the two mirror each other’s lines, accompany one another and switch parts without interrupting the idea flow. Yet the resulting improvisations are still divergent enough that neither is copying or following the other.

Imagine what could have been if the trio had remained intact.

—Ken Waxman

In MusicWorks Issue #101