Review: Anker, Taborn, Cleaver at the Vortex

Craig Taborn. Vortex, 17th April 2012
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2012. All Rights Reserved 

Anker, Taborn, Cleaver (Vortex, 17th April 2012. Review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

Lotte Anker: soprano, alto and tenor saxophones
Craig Taborn: piano
Gerald Cleaver: drums

Craig Taborn and Gerald Cleaver are familiar for their collaboration in the pianist’s trio, yet this was Lotte Anker‘s evening – which was a nice, if gentle surprise.

She had convened the trio back in 2003, and they have recorded three albums to date, two in the studio and one live. This Vortex performance was articulated by subtle shifts of emphasis, crafted with an instinctive shared awareness that saw the pianist and drummer continually redefining the platform, allowing Anker her full voice in a dynamic range of melodic and textural improvisation on three different saxes.

It was clear from Anker’s first trilled notes on soprano that she was setting the pace with an openness and a sense of clarity. The purposeful thrust of Anker’s playing found the perfect complement in the lightly sprung foundation that Taborn and Cleaver wove. Hardly audible initially, Taborn followed her melodic lines with faint, reflective echoes. Cleaver kept it light, initially using cane rutes, merely touching the cymbals, hardly working the drum pedal. Anker maintained the thread with gymnastic authority. Resubmitting phrases for continual reworking, her alto tone could be gritty, sharp, strident, raw, gutteral, avian. The trio gelled in confident discontinuity, kicking out a bamboozling funk from a standing start, lightening up and slowing down without notice, but all with total connectedness. Taborn’s unpredictable, syncopated solo – his hands virtually thrown up the keyboard – had Cleaver responding with a melody of rolls, and Anker pushing out sustained, slowly rolling tenor hums. Her explorations, even with a brief Getz-like flow, always asked questions of the instrument, there was no acceptance of the given.

Lotte Anker on tenor, Vortex, 17th April 2012

Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2012. All Rights Reserved

Reconvening after the break, Taborn invoked silence. Leaned on the piano. Single notes. Plucked at the piano wires. Cleaver just used fingers, knuckles, fingernails, scraped the surfaces, pushed the skins with his thumbs, held the sticks vertically on a small cymbal. Anker wafted flibberts of breath over the mouthpiece, then chilling, penetrating tones. Haunting terrain. A subterranean interlude as Anker’s water bottle became a mute in the tenor’s bowl with hazily impressionistic aquatic hints thrown in from the perimeter. Suddenly the tempo changed to an intensely animated massacring of light and shade – layered, concentrated, fast-moving – a shimmer of classic jazz, then a circular return to the minimally understated. To round off, a great grin from Taborn, and a super-fast passage, an invasion of the keyboard, no less. Anker’s measured return on alto ramped up a fierce crescendo with no let up or let down.

The trio pulled the threads together, leaving a resolved, bright statement in their wake. Natural balance, tremendous playing.

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