Open Opus
ILK 166 CD

By Ken Waxman

Deepening the partnership they established with Optics a couple of years ago, pianist Søren Kjaergaard, bassist Ben Street and drummer Andrew Cyrille function as three parts of an interlocking mechanism on this CD.

The Danish pianist, who composed all the tracks here except for two group improvs, has an authoritative style which mixes framed single notes with expressive passages that expand into steady chording. Veteran of gigs with everyone from singer Jimmy Scott to pianist Danilo Perez, the bassist advances a systematic ostinato that steadies the rhythm throughout, while the drummer, best-known for the decade plus he backed pianist Cecil Taylor, colors the nine tunes with percussive asides that range from expected rolls and ruffs to crossed drumstick smacks to echoes from hollow wood manipulations.

That last strategy signals the finale of “Places Birds Fly From”, which otherwise unfolds as Kjaergaard’s economic comping accelerates into lightly paced patterning. More than twice and one-third the age of his compatriots, Cyrille, 70, reinforces the beat with the sort of unselfconscious swing he would have brought to early gigs with the likes of saxophonist Coleman Hawkins. Eventually his rattling patterns on this track make room for tinkling grace notes from the pianist.

Other Kjaergaard compositional and playing strategies bend mainstream allusions to make new statements. On “Floating World (Ukiyo)” for instance, he languidly caresses a downward running line, keeping it askew by appending allusions to beginner’s piano exercises. Meanwhile “Fatha” – likely not named for Earl “Fatha” Hines – mixes a magisterial legato intro with a low-frequency detour into what could be “Autumn Leaves”. The overall relaxed feel finally leads to gentle keyboard musings.

Throughout the CD, Street’s full-out plucks, Cyrille cantering bops and shaded accents plus Kjaergaard’s pianism which ranges from isolated single notes to swirling classicism and passing chords, cement the trio interaction. If Open Opus has a shortcoming, it’s that it was recorded in 2008. One wonders how much tighter the group sounds today.

Tracks: Like A Motherless Sun (For Sun Ra); Floating World (Ukiyo); Kanon-I-Ka; Open Opus 3; Places Birds Fly From; Open Opus 5; Fatha; Abrahms’ Paraphrase; Naya

Personnel: Søren Kjaergaard: piano; Ben Street: bass; Andrew Cyrille: drums

—For New York City Jazz Record August 2011