Monday, November 25, 2019

Ellery Eskelin / Christian Weber / Michael Griener - The Pearls (Intakt, 2019)

The collective group of Ellery Eskelin on tenor saxophone, Christian Weber on bass and Michael Griener on drums develop an interesting album that mixes interpretations of ragtime songs from the dawn of jazz with free improvisations that are as fresh as tomorrow. “Magnetic Rag” by Scott Joplin is a fast and jumpy tune with the group’s playing sounding happy and upbeat. Eskelin’s saxophone takes the lead, sounding gracious and accessible, playing in a lyrical fashion alongside witty bass and drums. Everybody plays the danceable song joyously, with these postmodern musicians playing this music from over a century ago without missing a beat, as they take the jaunty theme to a fine conclusion. Going in a different way entirely, “La Fée Verte” opens with spare percussion and probing bowed bass. They develop a moody vibe of bowed bass with cymbals as the saxophone enters melding their tones and twisting the music which gains density as the improvisation gets faster and freer. They weave a complex texture among the three instruments, as Weber changes to plucked bass, developing a hypnotic figure, and the trio advances an excellent collective improvisation that never falters. Jelly Roll Morton’s classic composition “The Pearls” expresses a lively, cheerful, and self-confident manner of playing, taken at a medium tempo with excellent brushed percussion. The band plays in a very tight formation, performing with great empathy and dignity. “Eccentric Rag” ramps the tempo up, cooking in a more rhythmic manner with a nice melody and crisp drumming. The final track, “Black Drop,” is a long abstract improvisation, beginning quietly with nearly silent percussion. Bubbling saxophone and probing bass enter the picture as the band gradually builds volume and speed to an imposing collective improvisation that eventually fades into the silence from which it came. Following in the footsteps of the likes of Beaver Harris’s From Ragtime to No Time and Air’s Air Lore, this trio is able to forge a link between the beginning of the music’s history and the present day without giving the listener auditory whiplash. Both the rags and the free performances are played with grace and humility and a great deal of skill leading to their success. The Pearls -

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