Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Ellery Eskelin - Trio Willisau: Live (HatOlogy, 2016)

This album by the excellent trio of Ellery Eskelin on tenor saxophone, Gary Versace on Hammond B3 organ and Gerry Hemingway on drums was recorded live at the Jazz Festival Willisau in Switzerland in August of 2015. The group has been subtly remaking the nature of the organ trio over their past few albums and this is a superb summation of their music. "On (or About)" is a massive fifty minute suite of jazz that hints at some of the classic melodies of the past, but also weaves in aspects of free music and heightened group dynamism. They open with some industrial sounds, like something from a foundry as the organ grinds ominously and cymbals crash. Eskellin doesn't enter until over four minutes have elapsed, creating great tension and adding a raw and scouring tone to the stark improvisation. Their collective improvisation grows quite intense, with beams of sunshine in the form of happier swing motifs folded in. Eskelin steps aside again about a third of the way through, allowing space for layers or bubbling organ and crisp drumming to build. There are hints of melodic activity and progress that can also be dialed down to a series of abstract smears and clanks. The leader returns with a series of circular saxophone figures framed by low volume organ, which develops into a fascinating blend of swing and free with Eskelin's dark and deep tenor saxophone tone leading the trio through to the conclusion of a set of music that takes liberties with the source material, and is thrilling to hear. The Monk chestnut "We See" is opened with Hemmingway's drums, which are brilliant throughout, developing interesting rhythms with Versase's bass like organ rumbling. Eskelin's saxophone enters patiently, developing the improvisation in a snappy and interesting manner. The drummer moves to brushes for an interesting change of pace, but the intensity of the music remains high until it is finally reigned in at the end of the performance. "(I Don't Stand a) Ghost of a Chance With You" is a lustrous ballad, with Eskelin employing a massive Ben Webster like tenor saxophone tone over a soft cushion of light percussion and keyboard. The music is very deep and soulful and shows that Eskelin is much more than the "avant-garde" player that he is often labelled. This is classic jazz, lush and lovely and the perfect end to a concert whose music has has hinted at the entire history of post-war jazz, played by a band with a unique identity and sharing in their own fine company. Trio Willisau: Live - amazon.com

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