Marilyn Lerner-Ken Filiano-Lou Grassi

Live in Madrid
Cadence Jazz Records CJR 1247

By Ken Waxman

One of the most successful Canadian-American partnerships since the St. Lawrence Seaway, Toronto pianist Marilyn Lerner continues her musical relationship with New Yorkers bassist Ken Filiano and percussionist Lou Grassi. The trio’s second outing after 2008’s Arms Spread Wide, Live in Madrid charts the band’s maturation process, with three long improvisations where every piece locks into place. Equally proficient in Klezmer and austere free music, Lerner positions herself here firmly within the core of jazz. Her kinetic dynamism on the keyboard and inside the piano extends from the advances of Cecil Taylor, while her structural sophistication and thematic implementation can be related to fellow Canadian Paul Bley’s work.

Filiano’s thick and darkened string throbs plus Grassi’s agile command of the standard and extended percussion kits bring extra and unexpected timbres into play throughout. No slouches when it comes to expression during (moderated) solo spots, the two have experience in nearly every form of inside-and-outside jazz, developing accompanist expertise along the way. Consequently each interchange is a factor in the music’s adventurous advances.

Most notable is “Elegia por A.J.C.”, a 34-minute mini-suite, which despite its title is not particularly elegiac. Instead sliced abrasions from the bassist, harp-like arpeggios from the piano’s inner strings plus abstract drum-top and bell vibrations create a measure of reflective forbidding that finally explodes one-third of the way through as the threnody is converted into a buoyant commemoration. With left-handed echoes and expressive sparkles from the other hand, Lerner reaches a climax of sophisticated swing. Meanwhile Filiano’s bowing staccato variations join the piano lines, creating a moving, intervallic climax, which is concluded with chiming keyboard chords.

High frequency and highly motivated the introductory “Intentions Woven” succinctly lays out the trio’s strengths. Minimizing her output from genial vamps to singular key-clipping, Lerner then lays out long enough for a defining arco solo from Filiano. Regrouping, the trio’s taut harmonies finally subside into pace-setting swing.

Three players who instinctively know how to touch on experimental improvisation without neglecting rhythm inflections, Lerner-Filiano-Grassi have produced an inspired session of first-class jazz.

Tracks: Intentions Woven; Elegia por A.J.C.; Ode to Orujo

Personnel: Marilyn Lerner: piano; Ken Filiano: bass; Lou Grassi: drums and percussion

—For The New York City Jazz Record April 2014