John Lindberg’s Tripolar

[A] Live at Roulette, NYC
Jazzwerkstatt JW 114

By Ken Waxman

Linchpin of the String Trio of New York (STNY) for more than 30 years, bassist John Lindberg has always been involved in parallel ensembles that tackle more strenuous improvisations. Tripolar – coincidentally a trio – is one of the best, as this CD demonstrates. This shouldn’t surprise. Besides the bassist, whose playing partners have ranged from mainstream drummer Ed Thigpen to experimental trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, Tripolar includes multi-reedist Don Davis, a long-time Microscopic Septet member and Kevin Norton, whose vibes and percussion have backed stylists as distinct as Anthony Braxton and Joëlle Léadre.

The contrast between Tripolar and STNY are most obvious on the saxophonist’s “One for Ayler”, which predictably is a showcase for Davis’ passionate alto and soprano saxophones. Yet the piece is imaginative not imitative. While he does quote “Ghosts” Davis’ embellishments include note-bending but not glossolalia, adding original freylach twists to the familiar melody and interpolating tango-like phrasing at the end. Norton’s military-style clattering intensifies the Ayler homage, while Lindberg’s buzzing col legno accompaniment includes post-Ayler breakneck, upward string forays.

Energetic modernism isn’t all encompassing however. On “Skip” the spectacular string slapping Lindberg exhibits is close to what Pops Foster would have played in Classic Jazz settings, even though it’s heard in tandem with Norton’s ringing vibes interludes plus pinched soprano sax trilling. Moreover the percussionist’s “MC5” includes enough intense multiphonics from bass clarinet and splintering and scrubbing from the bassist to be an appropriate remembrance of the 1970s Detroit rock band. As Lindberg pops his strings so they sound like electric fuzz tones, Norton’ mallet-driven staccatissimo vibe echoes resemble electric piano lines. Some of [A] Live at Roulette, NYC is much less frenetic of course. A piece such as the concluding “Ways”, with its grounded bass lines and moderato vibraphone quivers is languid enough to be imbued with a campfire song-styled lilt.

All of this defines Tripolar’s appeal. Not only does this trio allow the bassist to play and write more rhythmically challenging material; but it does so in a range of exciting configurations while maintaining its individuality.

Tracks: Skip; One for Ayler; Send Off; Area 6; MC5; Ways

Personnel: Don Davis: bass clarinet, soprano and alto saxophones; John Lindberg: bass; Kevin Norton: drums, vibraphone

—For New York City Jazz Record September 2011