Thursday, April 18, 2019

Johnathan Blake - Trion (Giant Step Arts, 2019)

This is an exciting live recording led by drummer Johnathan Blake in the august company of Linda May Han Oh on bass and Chris Potter on tenor saxophone. The music is alternately muscular and nimble, at once recalling the classic live trio recordings Sonny Rollins made in the 1950's while at the same times sounding completely modern and as fresh as paint. “Synchronicity I” is a re-imagining  of the music of The Police, arranged by Potter, led by his evocative saxophone playing, solo at first, finding the band gradually folding in for what becomes a grand exploratory improvisation. Crisp drumming and dark hued stoic saxophone playing revolve around deeply rooted bass playing in an arresting manner, and their collective improvisation, pulling together in the direction of sheer performative power is amazing, this is top tier acoustic jazz playing at its finest. Taking something as banal as The Police (sorry Sting fans) and turning it into a seventeen minute powerhouse of imagination is a major accomplishment for this group. There's a beautiful bass solo, deft and nimble in the playing of the instrument, and an explosive trading of phrases between Blake and Potter. Quick bass and drum work opens “One for Honor,” soon joined by saxophone, creating a solid medium uptempo three way theme. Blake's cymbal accents frame the bass and saxophone well, keeping the music clean and centered, as Oh makes bounding leaps and Potter is a man possessed, playing quick successions of notes with a steely grace that is very impressive. Everybody just goes for it, upping the tempo even further and playing a music that is just out of sight in terms of speed and volume and the amount of control and trust that three people can have when they are this talented. Blake breaks out on a very intricate drum solo, loud and incredibly complex, but still accessible and fun to listen to. “Good Hope” gradually builds from an intricate drum rhythm, building to a trio performance that is quick and light in movement or action; and agile in nature. Potter's tone has a pinched element to it adding further texture, over Blake's complex rhythms and Oh's acrobatic playing. There was a deeply collaborative spirit on this double disc set, indicative of the albums title referencing atoms combining to form a single compound, which is an apt description for this highly attuned group where the spiritual tenets of mindfulness and being completely in the moment meet the science of sound and cognition, and result in exciting and powerful music. Trion - Bandcamp

Send comments to Tim.