Tim Armacost – Time Being
(Whirlwind WR4701. CD review by Jon Turney)
The solo bass tones from Robert Hurst that open this CD are a sound to savour, like hearing someone start the ignition of a superbly tuned car. And he and Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts on drums certainly furnish the high-performance rhythmic vehicle that saxophonist-leader Tim Armacost had in mind for this trio. Watts joins in full Elvin Jones polyrhythmic mode, and the track, Alawain, unfolds from there with the tenor lines ducking and weaving between bass and percussion.
The feeling is often strongly akin to Joe Lovano’s first Trio Fascination session, which featured Jones himself with another saxophone artist who commands the entire tradition. That’s a high standard to match, but Armacost brings it off. Some cuts explore Coltrane’s world. 53rd Street Theme ventures deep into bop, and The Next 20 is a quintessentially Ellingtonian ballad.
All conventional for a sax trio (David Kikoski – who has also recorded with Watts in trio – contributes storming piano on three cuts), though brilliantly executed. There’s also a more experimental, even slyly subversive flavour. The experiments typically involve setting bass and drums in motion, each keeping a different tempo. The saxophonist begins in lockstep with one, then solos his way into the other beat, leaving the first rhythm player ploughing their own lonely furrow. It creates a nice tension, which remains teasingly unresolved as the two times always define swinging differently. The effect is like the duck-rabbit family of visual illusions – you can see one or the other, never both at once, nor ever quite catch the moment the switch happens. A whole session playing around with these possibilities, like a whole book of trick diagrams, would be a little wearing. Here, they supply just enough rhythmic spice to lift the whole menu. The CD programme feels like the result of careful thought. Is the title a sly reference to Heidegger? I wouldn’t be surprised.
In the end, conceptual interest is trumped by the quality of the performance. And that is consistently fresh, open, and full of invention. It’s epitomised by one of the pair of covers. Ornette Coleman’s Lonely Woman begins well with the matchless melody alternating between bass and saxophone, then evolves into a three-way exchange, with the drums boiling away as bass and sax stretch and reshape the tune every which way. It takes confidence to reappropriate a classic that seems unimprovable – a confidence evident throughout this disc. Ornette would approve, I’m sure.