Ellery Eskelin: tenor saxophone; Christian Weber: double bass; Michael Griener: drums.
A contemporary sax-bass-drums trio formation makes of diversity its raison d’être. It’s even more enticing when we realize that American saxophonist Ellery Eskelin is part of it, accompanied by a European rhythm section composed of Swiss bassist Christian Weber and German drummer Michael Griener.
I was always a big fan of Eskelin’s music, especially that unforgettable trio with Andrea Parkins and Jim Black that delighted countless avant-jazz fans in the 90’s and 00’s. Recently, I had the pleasure to hear him conjuring up rough-hewn aesthetics in Rhombal, a highly groovy project led by the bassist Stephan Crump.
Adventurous by nature, the three musicians are not estranged to one another and that factor weighs in the interactive easiness they exhibit. Here, they focus on exploration-improvisation, and, surprise!, early jazz classics.
They got down to business and came up with the idea of mixing on the same recording avant-garde and traditional jazz, digging it with their personal style and vision.
In Sensations of Tone, Wiener and Griener combine in perfection, creating diversified textures whose consistency is a tonic for Eskelin’s conversational fluency pelted with colorful facets. Although the album title derives from von Helmholtz’s work on sound and acoustics dated from 1863, it’s more than natural to think of the grainy, warm tones of Eskelin’s tenor as part of the process.
You’ll find four urban avant-garde pieces, apparently inspired by some streets and places of New York (according to its titles), evenly intercalated with four gorgeous renditions of traditional swinging jazz songs.
Probing different sonic concepts, “Orchard and Broome” is audacious in nature, opening with the deeply reverberant sounds of Griener’s drums, which soon have the company of Weber’s grumbling bowed bass. Eskelin’s intriguing phrasing blossoms, whether with calmness or turbulence until we reach the boiling point where the voracious power of his tenor can be felt. The outbreak eventually stabilizes for the finale.
With more or fewer levels of abstraction, we have “Cornelia Street”, a true proof that experimentation sometimes leads to ebullient swinging grooves, “Ditmas Avenue”, where Weber displays his penetrating round sound and exceptional technique, and “Dumbo”, whose mood is more alarming than playful.
The classics are Jelly Roll Morton’s “Shreveport Stomp”, whose start recalls the Muppet Show theme, “China Boy”, a popular song from the 20’s that ends up with Eskelin trading fours with Griener, Bennie Moten’s “Moten Swing”, and the widely known “Ain’t Misbehavin”, which sparks with Eskellin’s motivic approach and Griener’s invitation to a tap dance.
The trio’s idea of putting together austere melodic material with ear-pleasing pieces was clever.
Regardless if searching for similarities between styles, the alternation of moods provides agreeable and less exhausting musical dissections.
Label: Intakt Records, 2017
01 – Orchard and Broome ► 03 – Cornelia Street ► 04 – China Boy