Barry Altschul’s The 3Dom Factor – Live in Krakow
(Nottwo Records MW-962 CD Review by Jon Turney)
This outfit is looking for the Goldilocks zone a trio sometimes inhabits – hence the somewhat awkward name. Three players together can establish a space for improvisation where each can take account of anything the others do, and the listener can hear it happen. Telepathic duos can be sublime, but the richer interactions afforded by one more voice open up new dimensions of challenge and response. A foursome may do even more but, for me, listening confronts a cognitive limitation. If the playing is intense, one gets a general impression, but there’s too much detail to take in. A trio is just right.
Such a trio calls for special players. Here, Master drummer Barry Altschul, bassist Joe Fonda, and saxophonist John Irabagon, tick all the boxes: high accomplishment, mutual respect, long acquaintance, and the kind of eagerness to respond to each other that feeds collective inspiration.
Irabagon has recorded live with Altschul before, with another of the drummer’s long-time bass players Mark Helias, but this is the first live set from this trio after two studio recordings. The session, from what sounds like a packed club in Krakow last December, shows them at their best. They open, on Martin’s Stew, with a formidable scene-setting percussion solo from Altschul, beginning on brushes, then exploring sticks on cymbals, and moving to the full kit. Fonda picks up the time, and then Irabagon plunges in, the three building a maelstrom that rivals Coltrane’s legendary One Down, One Up in intensity, before a rich bowed-bass episode.
A more restrained Ask Me Now follows, Monk’s theme treated obliquely, then directly. For Papa Joe, Klook, and Philly too nods to the drummer’s early influences though the playing is wilder than they ever encountered, Altschul’s Irina provides the necessary ballad, and the closer and title track is a rousing quarter hour of collective improvisation.
The five pieces together show this inspiring threesome – one deeply experienced veteran continuing a late-career resurgence of fine recordings and two younger virtuosi – sitting in the trio music sweet spot more or less continuously. They are also a good advertisement for their shared approach to free playing. Happily, it’s not the oddly constrained freedom some avowed when Altschul was coming up in the 1960s and 1970s, eschewing time-playing or regular melody entirely. This is the liberation of “we’ll play anything we want”, referencing the entire jazz tradition. You’ll hear many facets of that tradition here, at different times, but the results sound as fresh as you could wish for.
Jon Turney writes about jazz, and other things, from Bristol. jonturney.co.uk. Twitter: @jonWturney