Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Chris McGregor Trio - Our Prayer (Fledg'ling, 2008)

When South African expat pianist and composer Chris McGregor emigrated to England in the mid-1960's it was with high hopes that his integrated band would find acceptance and performance opportunities. As Maxine McGregor's detailed liner notes reveal, that was far from the case. While McGregor's big band, The Brotherhood of Breath, slowly gained acceptance in Europe, his small groups, including the lamented Blue Notes, were a tough sell. That was probably the reason this wonderful trio set with Barre Phillips on bass and Louis Maholo on drums and percussion sat unreleased for nearly forty years. We are fortunate to have it because it sheds light on McGregor's under appreciated skill as a pianist. Leading off with the brief "Church Mouse," the group plays a gospelish blues with something like a 70's era Keith Jarrett feel. "Moonlight Aloe" has a freer nature, with some wonderful bowed bass work from Phillips. But it is the final two tracks that are the real revelation, "Spike Nord" has a rapid open trio feel, anchored by rumbling drums and skittish piano. Phillips interjects bow scrapes as the music intensifies with sawing bass and strong drums with mysterious piano accents. The title track "Our Prayer" is an epic of trio improvisation, clocking in a nearly twenty six minutes and never flagging in its intensity at all. Opening with bowed bass, cymbals and probing piano, the music evolves to tight, focused and intense free improvisation which moves into Cecil Taylor territory at times. After a relatively calm middle section, McGregor and Maholo enter into a percussive duet that it very powerful and free with percussive whistles and bells adding effects. After Phillips interjects a bowed bass interlude, the three come together in collective improvisation to conclude this extraordinary performance. This was a wonderful discovery, I had become a fan of the Brotherhood of Breath due to the great concert reissues on the Cuneiform label, and it was fascinating to hear this disc, with the wide open trio. Very highly recommended.

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