The Urge Trio

Live in Toledo
Veto-records/exchange 010

Pandelis Karayorgis Quintet


Driff Records CD 1404

By Ken Waxman

Fayetteville, Arkansas’ gift to improvised music, saxophonist/clarinetist Keefe Jackson is gradually expanding his base from his new hometown of Chicago, where he leads several ensembles Both Live in Toledo and Afterimage offer unique displays of his talent. Skewed chamber-jazz, the first calculates how many varied tones can be sourced from the dual tenor saxophones and bass clarinets of Jackson and Swiss reedist Christoph Erb, with Tomeka Reid’s cello the single chordal back-up. Also recorded live, but a more formal date, Afterimage features four Windy City players – reedists Jackson and Dave Rempis, bassist Nate McBride and drummer Frank Rosaly – playing the compositions and arrangements of Boston pianist Pandelis Karayorgis.

With the caveat that today’s musical world is very different Afterimage could be Karayorgis’ Monk’s Music. That doesn’t mean that the Athens, Greece-born pianist imitates Thelonious Monk’s 1957 classic. Instead the distinctively angular tunes bring out band members’ talents as unequivocally as Monk’s compositions did for his crew. It’s the arrangements that stand out since each player is given a specific role or roles, which lock together architecturally or contrast with the others’ work.

Equanimity in the tongue-and-groove connection is such for instance that the geometry of “Haunt”, for instance, is defined by McBride’s thumping bass intro that leads into a comprehensive melody via off-side runs from Karayorgis. Later staccato peeps from the reedists reflect rather than shred the positioned swing. Meanwhile “Velocipede” is built from low-key slurps and irregular altissimo squeaks from both horn men, with piano key tolling speeding to such an extent that the piece almost reaches “Salt Peanuts”-like velocity. More complex, “Obsession” edges towards abstraction as the saxophonists ready themselves to battle.

Karayorgis’ economical keyboard strategies owe something to Monk, although his playing is seasoned with reflections of Lennie Tristano’s imperturbable lines plus echoes of Bud Powell-like strength. Overall in fact, it’s the rhythmic sophistication of the title track which best defines Karayorgis’ originality. Resting on Rempis’ distinctive baritone saxophone continuum, the melody is relaxed, but includes enough rhythmic stress to ensure motion isn’t lumpy. Karayorgis’ themes may not be as distinctive as Monk’s, but they’re more varied, less repetative and more controlled. With this CD he has organized the perfect band to showcase them at their best.

Moving from a composer’s showcase to pure improvisation, the Urge Trio disc doesn’t bother with anything as mainstream as theme and variations on its two-track CD. Still the closely packed yet free-flowing triple interactions are as closely attuned as Karayorgis’ arrangements. Linked by cavernous tongue slaps and hippo-like snorts, the reedists still spend time vibrating altissimo shrieks that are both aviary and canine. With these textures used to both disrupt and place-mark, a certain dramatic range is established on the extended “Upward, Behind the Onstreaming”. Eventually disconnected and juddering lines are wrapped into a final duet of tongue percussion from tenor saxophone and string-thin shrieks from bass clarinet so that finality if not contentment is achieved. Far more successful at half the length is the appropriately titled “Manne du Ciel”. Experienced AACMer, Reid, who limits herself to singular strums or plucks on the first track, become more animated in her playing. Taking charge, her tough cross plucking gives way to harsh staccato strokes that could have come from Derek Bailey’s guitar and command the same linear directness. With her slashing string lines later pushing one hornman’s bugle-like spetrofluctuation and the other’s flat-air outflow into parallel counterpoint a climax that releases tension while remaining buoyant is reached.

Although only one of the players on these CDs, Jackson demonstrates that his connective qualities are valuable in contradictory contexts. Both bands and sessions are notable, but there’s a vastly different audience and little crossover for each

Tracks: Afterimage: Ledger; Haunt; Nest; Velocipede; Veil; Afterimage; Simmer; Sway; Obsession; Never Ending

Personnel: Afterimage: Dave Rempis: alto, tenor and baritone saxophones; Keefe Jackson: tenor saxophone, bass and contrabass clarinets; Pandelis Karayorgis: piano; Nate McBride: bass; Frank Rosaly: drums

Tracks: Live: Upward, Behind the Onstreaming; Manne du Ciel

Personnel: Live: Christoph Erb, Keefe Jackson: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Tomeka Reid: cello

—For The New York City Jazz Record March 2015