March 6, 2017
Sensations of Tone
Intakt Records CD 276
By Ken Waxman
Journeys inside the Wayback Machine characterize these CDs by tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin and two different European rhythm sections. Literally a blast from the past, Les Indignés was recorded in 2011 when the saxophonist joined C.B.G. – guitarist Guillermo Celano and drummer Marcos Baggiani – plus Dutch bassist Clemens van der Feen, to record eight originals. More a symbolic past life experience, Sensations of Tone attains a different, difficult objective. Eskelin, German drummer Michael Griener and Swiss bassist Christian Weber mingle four improvisations with four hot jazz standards from the ‘20s and ‘30s, interpreting all in the same free manner. Although the later CD has a slight edge, each disc succeeds on its own merit.
Two Amsterdam-based Argentineans Celano and Baggiani have co-lead C.B.G, with different personnel for a decade and Les Indignés was one experiment. Like splashing Tabasco sauce on Dutch herring the pairing is piquant but a bit unsatisfying. Perhaps because of his Baltimore upbringing, Eskelin often dribbles his notes with indolent slurs and slurps, while the guitarist and drummer are more hard-edged. “Bin Laden's Trial” for instance, a guitar feature, swells with buzzing reverb and whammy bar echoes from Celano plus Baggiani’s beats that could be nailing the skin to the drum heads. The resolution speeds up with the saxophonist’s reed tonguing harshly to match them. Or take “Bicicleta Boy”. With the drummer and van der Feen laying down a constant backbeat, the guitarist’s sizzling upwards string pops reduce the saxophonist to contrapuntal trills until he gathers the strength to challenge the others with emotional altissimo cries. More like peace processes than Mexican standoffs, tunes like “Parcelas Desiguales” and “Demagogical Dreams of a Beautiful World” come together more notably, with the pace slowed down to balladic. Over a jaunty, near bossa nova beat, “Parcelas Desiguales” has a candied melody that like taffy can be pulled into mouth-watering and ear-pleasing shapes through trebly chording from the guitarist or chewy snuffles from the saxophonist, with bowed double bass lines as the bonding factor. The second tune is a foot-tapping shuffle where Eskelin’s toothpaste-tube-like squeezed reed lines harmonize expressively with Celano’s exuberantly bouncy chording.
More exuberance is on tap with Sensations of Tone since Griener appears to have added antique Chinese sizzle cymbals to his drum kit and Weber’s isn’t averse to solid walking, especially on the traditional numbers. A European working unit since 2011, the shared history of Eskelin, Weber and Griener allows the three to improvise with the timing of a well-honed Marx Brothers routine. This comfort level is obvious as early as “Orchard and Broom”, the first track, where Griener’s aggressive rim shots and rolls and Weber’s rappelling bass lines complement Eskelin’s slurping melodicism like the layers of a parfait. The other instant compositions follow comparable strategies. Like a swain in a period drama the saxophonist expresses his laid-back romanticism via breathy slurs and. Meanwhile his sidekicks’ sonic toughness prevents the slurps from turning sloppy. Breathy reed smears are put in proper proportion by Weber’s lingering spiccato string clicks on “Dumbo”, while detuning and irregular vibrations from the bassist and reedist stretch “Ditmas Avenue” with timbral ingenuity. Finally like Bob Hope’s japes that mock yet reinforce Bing Crosby’s crooning during The Road movies, Griener’s clock-like ticking and sudden pops strip the sentimentality from the saxophonist’s tone on “Cornelia Street”.
Crosby sang with Paul Whiteman’s quasi-Dixieland band, but this trio’s approach to “China Boy” would probably have baffled him. Unlike the herky-jerky original, Eskelin’s serene playing is sleek with notes held a little longer than expected and double-tongue variations. At the same time staccato phrasing and freak notes makes the tune contemporary not classic jazz, with Weber’s supple bass lines anything but Dixieland slaps as well. These stable reconstitutions are like putting 21st century suspension and cruise control onto classic cars. Elsewhere, tunes by Bennie Moten, Jelly Roll Morton and Fats Waller also move intuitively but are more sophisticated. With accenting Griener can salute Baby Sommer as well as Baby Dodds, while Weber’s command of low-pitched melody reach futuristic The Jetsons concepts, the way traditional Dixieland bull fiddlers playing could be linked to The Flintstones.
Regardless of the number of musicians who have played it, Eskelin produces a notable relaxed solo on “Moten Swing”, which is as contemporary as it is elementary. This ability to adapt and innovate simultaneously is why he makes his mark on these discs with the quartet and the trio.
Track Listing: Sensations: Orchard and Broom; Shreveport Stomp; Cornelia Street; China Boy; Ditmas Avenue; Moten Swing; Dumbo; Ain’t Misbehavin’
Personnel: Sensations: Ellery Eskelin (tenor saxophone); Christian Weber (bass) and Michael Griener (drums)
Track Listing: Indignés.: Les Indignés; Bin Laden's Trial; Parcelas Desiguales; Morphology: The Form; Morphology: Emptiness; Demagogical Dreams of a Beautiful World; Borges and My Father; Bicicleta Boy
Personnel: Indignés Ellery Eskelin (tenor saxophone); Guillermo Celano (guitar); Clemens van der Feen: (bass) and Marcos Baggiani (drums)
—For The New York City Jazz Record March 2017