Ellery Eskelin

Trio New York
Prime Source CD 6010

Ellery Eskelin/Andrea Parkins/Jim Black

One Great Night ... Live

hatOLOGY 683

These two sides of Brooklyn-based tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin’s trio sounds aren’t as disparate as they appear on the surface. While Eskelin is identified with the experimental side of improvised music, typified by his trio with keyboardist Andrea Parkins and drummer Jim Black plus sideman gigs with the likes of drummer Gerry Hemingway, the results are only far-out when measured against the most rigidly conservative Jazz.

That why the disc recorded with Hammond B3 organist Gary Versace and drummer Gerald Cleaver, with a playlist of only standards, isn’t so much a reorientation of his work, as a confirmation of his roots. Growing up with a mother who played organ professionally, he was exposed to that sort of sound early on. Trio New York demonstrates how non-idiomatic treatments of musical war horses can be as exciting as the atonal explorations of original themes that the other trio showcases on One Great Night ... Live, recorded three years and three months earlier.

Eskelin’s nightclub organ-trio roots still emanate from the seven originals on One Great Night, even though sonic coloration depends on Black’s brisk, Rock-styled drumming and Parkins’ command of accordion, laptop and sampler. Recorded in Eskelin’s Baltimore hometown, many of the riffs Parkins plays on organ and piano plus the saxophonist’s style of fluttering and honking are variants of traditional organ-trio narratives elaborated on the other CD. Similarly Versace and Cleaver aren’t typically Funk-Jazz beat makers. The drummer, who is also a first-class composer and arranger, has worked with advanced stylists such as saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell, while the organist has gigged with cerebral players ranging from saxophonist Lee Konitz to drummer John Hollenbeck.

With his fluttery, Gene Ammons-influenced tone on show as early as the hoary “Memories of You”, the saxophonist comes up with slippery and sluicing variants on the theme as Cleaver claps and slaps and Versace quivers cross textures. Swiftly enough the saxophonist`s smooth melody reading moves the tune into classic swing form, aided by the drummer’s bomb dropping plus broken-chord shimmies and quivers from the organist. As each man slowly extends the lines contrapuntally, the piece climaxes with mid-range variations from Eskelin and a conclusive return to breathy reed tones.

Throughout arrangements are conventional enough to allow room for solos from all the participants; but not one is a showcase for the sake of showiness. Notably, as well, a pop tune such as “Lover Come Back to Me” and Thelonious Monk’s “Off Minor” are approached in a similar fashion, with variations before the theme. The former features diaphragm-pushed upturned cadences from the reedist before Cleaver’s brush work sets up the melody. The latter highlights the organist’s quirky rococo pumping before Eskelin’s honks move backwards into a thematic groove. Later it’s the saxophonist who double tongues the theme as the keyboardist adds Monk-like accents, key fanning and cadenza pumping.

“Lover” on the other hand soon becomes a hard swinger, with emotional reed slurs, tone extension and split-second quotes from other standards part of Eskelin’s solo. Meanwhile Versace keeps up a ground bass ostinato that mixes with Cleaver’s pops and flams and eventually leads to Eskelin’s extended reading of the head that audaciously and unaccompanied undulates to near-motionless legato, punctuated with a final dissonant cry.

Dissonance and extended techniques are prevalent on One Great Night. But so are part-boudoir, part boisterous tenor sax tones Eskelin inherited from 1950s stylists and, at points, Parkins’ pumping organ cadenzas that could without disruption be substituted for the organ work on the other CD. This is most obvious on “Instant Counterpoint” and the concluding “Half A Chance”.

On the second tune her dual-keyboard repetitions take on almost church-like inferences – talk about Soul Jazz – while the narrative elaboration dips into a similar call-and-response. Black’s eventual backbeat adds to the Funk emulation, although Eskelin’s squeezed tongue flutterings are more abstract than R&B-oriented. True to its title, “Instant Counterpoint” manages to keep triple lines moving even as Parkins slides between harsh accordion pulses and jerky organ slurs. Black’s ruffs and ratamacues are a point of demarcation though, while the saxophonist’s linear extension is fragmented rather than thematic. After a notable reed cadenza, Eskelin busies himself with multiphonic roars and smears, cramming as many dissonant timbres as he can into his lines.

Conversely, a track such as “For No Good Reason” is in the realm of post-modernism, with clinking and clattering piano chords, electronic buzzes and minimalist samples that cascade like Christmas bells. Eskelin narrows his tone with unstable and ghostly obbligatos that are as obtuse as the keyboardist’s voicing is thick and forceful. Piano cadenzas unroll methodically as the saxophonist’s timbres slither and spew.

Part of this transition is obvious on the lead-off track, which like all the others was composed by Esklein. While it has a title that could have been used on a Lee Morgan Blue Note session, it actually matches elements of experimentation with traditionalism. Although the reedist spins out breathy, Ammons-like textures from his horn at the top, the pumping accompaniment is from quivering accordion bellows, and it’s only when Black introduces a backbeat that swaggering organ stops enter the mix. With the drummer in-your-face, the concentrated narrative moves forward with off-centre timbres from the saxophonist and key shuddering from the keyboardist in lockstep. Eventually the accordion buzzes put into boldest relief Eskelin’s balladic inferences.

Post-modern or Old School, it appears that the saxophonist has found notable improvisatory strategies for both of his trios.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: One: 1. The Decider 2. For No Good Reason 3. Coordinated Universal Time 4. Split The Difference 5. Instant Counterpoint 6. I Should Have Known 7. Half A Chance

Personnel: One: Ellery Eskelin (tenor saxophone); Andrea Parkins (piano, electric piano, organ, accordion, laptop and sampler) and Jim Black (drums and percussion)

Track Listing: Trio: 1. Memories of You 2. Off Minor 3. Witchcraft 4. Lover Come Back to Me 5. How Deep is the Ocean

Personnel: Trio: Ellery Eskelin (tenor saxophone); Gary Versace (Hammond B3 organ) and Gerald Cleaver (drums)